This week while teaching religious ed to my 10th graders, the subject to be discussed was morality. To me, this was exciting, as morality is something that I think most people today really don’t fully understand, so here was my opportunity to teach young impressionable youth the real meaning of morality as taught by the Catholic Church. What I found myself teaching, at the end of the session, left me angry, confused and rather upset. There were several questions that asked the kids whether the scenario was Right(Moral) or Wrong(Immoral). Here are several examples:
1. In a school zone while class is in session, you speed 15 MPH over the speed limit.
2. An aptitude test reveals you have tremendous music ability. Your mother suggests you take lessons, yet you refuse to do so.
3. You get drunk on the weekend to escape the stress of school.
4. Prison guards administer an experimental AIDs vaccine to lifers without their knowledge to find a cure for AIDs.
Obviously the intended response to these questions is Wrong(Immoral), however, I feel that most of these questions do not properly reflect the morality of God. Let me explain:
Morality is supposed to teach us clearly the correct way of life as God wants us to live. The second two examples are good questions as they properly reflect immorality in a setting that a teenager can understand, as well as something that would be considered a grave sin within Church teaching. The first two on the other hand have nothing to do with grave matter. The first issue is in regard to a man made law. Man made laws do not always reflect that of God’s natural law. Setting of a speed limit is something that man decided on, not God. Of course the intention to keep students safe while they are in school is a noble effort, however, breaking of this man-made law, in turn, will have no effect with the state of your soul in relation to God. Also, when your mother suggests you take music lessons and you say no, this will also not have an effect on your soul, it is not a sin.
The problem with teaching morality in those situations is that it lumps all issues that are not obviously right, into the wrong category. Should you go the speed limit? Of course. Should you take music lessons at the suggestion of your mother? Why not! However, to categorize the opposite as being immoral causes a huge concern. Are these situations as bad as abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, pornography? Absolutely not! But when you begin to say that something as intrinsically evil as abortion or pornography is on the same moral plain as speeding, we have a grave error that then causes scandal to the Truth.
Again, should you obey man made laws? It depends. Each country, state, city, county has various laws depending on what those individuals in charge of making laws feel should be law. Some laws are of course good…if you commit murder, you go to jail for x years. Some laws are morally neutral…speeding. Other laws are obviously morally false…legal abortion. For example: using the speeding case: it is perfectly acceptable to go 25mph in a school zone today. Tomorrow, the speed limit has been reduced to 15mph. Is it now horrendous to go 25mph in the school zone? No. You should obey the speed limit, however it is not going to send you to Hell. Abortion, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage on the other hand can and most likely will.
To further illustrate the point it is perfectly legal in the United States to go to Mass whenever one feels like it. If a law was passed tomorrow saying that all Catholics participating in the Mass became illegal, would it be immoral to go?
This post is one of many in a series on Mortal Sins. Click here for more posts explaining and defining mortal sins.