The intention of this writing is to showcase the way Jesus’ commandments to love the Lord above all else and to love our neighbors as ourselves is the highest and most important objective moral standard against which humans are called to judge our actions and the actions of those around us. By summing the Ten Commandments into two to tell us what to do (rather than what to do and what not to do) He elevated love as of the utmost importance of all moral values and duties.
Objective Moral Values and Obligations
Do we have objective moral values and obligations to do what’s right for our
fellow earth travelers? Objective moral values and duties are stance-independent. In other words, your opinions about our moral values and duties do not change them. And yes, we do. For example, we have moral values and obligations to love, be just, be truthful, be fair, and be kind. People all over the globe know these values are good and right, which has been evidenced in global studies by Shalom Schwartz and his Portrait Values Study and the GLOBE study of 62 societies. In the Schwartz studies, the values of benevolence (kindness to the in-group) and universalism (understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and the protection and welfare of all people and for nature) emerged hierarchically on top.
“An astonishing finding of the cross-cultural research is the high level of consensus
regarding the relative importance of the ten values across societies. In the vast majority of
nations studied, benevolence, universalism, and self-direction values appear at the top of
the hierarchy and power, tradition, and stimulation values appear at the bottom” (Schwartz, 2012, p. 17).
In the GLOBE study, scholars merged benevolence and universalism into a single dimension: humane orientation. The GLOBE study examined what is in societies from what ought to be. In all societies, people believed that the humane orientation practices in their societies were lower than they should be (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). In other words, they realized their societies’ deficiencies. Furthermore, the societies with the highest humane in practice were those with the greatest poverty and/or levels and histories of suffering.
These values and obligations are moral standards or laws against which we make judgments about good and right behaviors. They transcend cultures, societies, and eras. Accordingly, it follows that we have a source or moral lawgiver, which also transcends cultures, societies, and eras. We know this moral lawgiver as God.
But Which God?
To answer this question, we need to look deeper into the moral laws by which we feel our conscience calls on us to abide. As Paul shared in Romans 2:15, God has given all of us a conscience and if we do not sear it (1 Timothy 4:2), it properly guides us to good and right behaviors in accordance with God’s moral law. As C.S. Lewis has stated, God’s moral law is as tough as nails: it doesn’t care how difficult or dangerous it is to abide by it (Lewis, 1952).
“What did God do? First of all, He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all throughout history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. The people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process” (Lewis, 1952, p. 49).
“Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 49-50).
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us now come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 50-51).
Kant’s Categorical Imperatives
Immanuel Kant wrote much about our deontological ethics, which are our moral duties or obligations to follow various categorical imperatives, such as always telling the truth, being just, and being fair. Yet we should not view these imperatives in silos as if they exist separate from one another. They operate in tandem with each other. At times, one may need to be sacrificed at the expense of another, as when some Germans hid and protected Jews during World War II and perhaps lied to any Nazis who questioned whether they were doing so. Does this mean that our values and duties are subjective? No. It means we must appeal to the highest objective moral value and duty of love when making decisions about other moral duties and obligations.
Jesus elevated love when he shortened the Ten Commandments into two: Love the Lord above all else and love your neighbors as yourself. Using love as the standard against which we judge all of our actions is Jesus’ highest moral law. It answers all questions. And Jesus IS love. He is the standard against which we can judge all other actions. Like a goal post on a football field, He and His standard of love do not move. And we should spend our lives aiming for Him and His moral ideals.
Thank you for your time.
S.J. Thomason is a Christian professor of business management in the United States. Please also visit her YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/c/ChristianApologist/about
House, R.J., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., & Gupta, V. (2004). Culture, Leadership, and Organizations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Lewis, C.S. (1952) Mere Christianity. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. (2002). C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Schwartz, S. (2012). An overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, Unit 2, Article 11.