Ends and Means – Ethics refresher

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Many situations in which I have found myself over the past couple years have made me revisit what I thought I knew about ethics..

Ethics and morals, like many of the most important things in our lives, often become taken for granted to the point that we forget some of there most important points.

This is especially important for us to remember today given the situations facing the church. With clerical scandal constantly revisited on the news and the overall decline of morality and culture even within members of the Church itself, what might we reiterate about ethics and morality that might shed some light?

Sometimes the most necessary information to revisit is that which seems obvious. What I would like to revisit is the fact that ends do not justify means.

Good ends, well intentioned ends, wishfully thought out ends, seemingly attractive end, never, EVER justify evil means.

Point made. What is the relevance?

Here’s the thing: This concept seems obvious and basic and unquestioned, but like many such concepts, it is only easy until you are faced with a situation involving lofty ends but questionable means.

One of the most commonplace and easy traps to fall into involve the way we interact with people we live with, work with, or are close to in some way.

When we care about people we naturally want to help them be better. With this end in mind, what so often happens? We yell, nag, criticize, put down, write off, marginalize, or in some other way try to produce this good “end” by poor means.

We know we should be kinder, more patient, gentler, or all in all more loving, but these are hard to do. In fact, not only is it hard to help others be better in a loving fashion, but oftentimes we are trying to enact change in others that we are unwilling or unable to as yet enact in ourselves.

It comes down to this: its easy to be concerned with these lofty ends, but much harder to perform good means.

But here is the real kicker: Those lofty ends are worthless if you sink to evil means to get them. God may work good from them, but that’s His business. You on the other hand have sinned, and this is not changed by the fact that God can bring fruit from even the darkness of sin.

This is the reality of our moral lives. The goodness or badness of any given action is never dependent on the outcome of the action. This is a good thing too because nomatter how good of an action we perform or bad, we can’t control the outcome. Our best efforts can seem to produce disaster, and our worst sins can, by grace, be made to flower. We are not morally responsible for the good or evil results of our actions, but only the goodness or badness of the actions themselves.

Again, when reminded that “ends never justify means” many will say “well, duh!”. But unfortunately if we were honest and prayerful about it, we all know examples of lying, cheating, gossip, disobedience, and other vices, many are our own, that have been justified or ignored because some rosy “end” held us in thrall.

Just as we are called to give and not count the costs, we must never let the ends of our actions distract us from the rightness or wrongness of the actions themselves.

Think about it and leave your comments below. God Bless.

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