Columnists > Voices

Deceptive truths

Watch out for those who promote morality solely out of pragmatism

Issue: "Iraq and terrorism," Nov. 11, 2006

Could Reader's Digest and Good Housekeeping possibly be doing as much harm in your home as Playboy and Penthouse would if they were there?

Maybe even more.

When godlessness takes a blatant, explicit, and obviously rebellious form-as it does in the pornography that surrounds us in print media, on TV, or on the internet-we tend to get our defenses set. Our consciences prepare us to do battle and, with God's grace, we resist.

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Much more subtle and pernicious is the propaganda that surrounds us by our own choice-propaganda that seems to uphold what we believe but quietly steals away our basis for belief while pretending to be a friend.

An article I saw not long ago arguing against unmarried "living together arrangements" demonstrates the point. Hurrah! A magazine with circulation in the millions now adds its authority to the traditional Christian view: Men and women who live together without commitment, the writer said, are asking for trouble.

Then comes the big temptation: Where God's Word and God's authority have not been persuasive, we suppose, maybe Reader's Digest or Parade will work. So this latest argument from a nonbelieving writer becomes a kind of back-up Bible that perhaps can do what the real Bible couldn't.

But wait! What is the authority for this newer argument? In the article on marriage, the main authority is sheer pragmatism. Living together without marriage, says the writer, just doesn't work as well as does a more traditional approach.

Things get tricky here. To be sure, God has seen to it that any effort to bypass His rules won't ultimately work. But God gets no mention in this article. And that is where the poison does its work. The reader quietly learns to make his or her decisions on the basis of what seems to work and what doesn't seem to work rather than on the basis of what God says.

What a flimsy foundation! One reason it won't work, we read, is that employers-even in today's permissive society-are less likely to hire you if they know that you're living with someone you're not married to. For some reason, many employers still hold to the notion that a person who is committed in one aspect of life is more likely to be committed on others fronts as well. Someone who has a spouse who trusts him just might be someone whose employer can trust him as well. But what happens to that argument when employers no longer care, as is almost certain to happen in our quick-to-adjust world?

You don't have to look hard for more examples. People who will solve all your problems and give you endless advice-with no reference at all to God's eternal wisdom-are a dime a dozen. And you'll find them in the most respectable places, too.

At its best, we call this "common grace." It involves the sense that God gives some of His blessings even to people who despise and ignore Him. The Bible reminds us that "He sends the rain on the just and the unjust." Such common grace also includes His enlightenment and understanding-so that even people who reject God sometimes understand some things better than those who embrace Him.

But "common grace" is primarily an undeserved spill-over benefit for those who reject God Himself. God's people don't ultimately govern and order their lives on pragmatism and common sense. They look instead for God's authoritative word, His trustworthy directives-and they revel in the explicit nature of that revelation.

Secularists may sometimes offer advice that coincides with God's truth. But be careful with their counsel. And teach your children to be careful with it as well. Godlessness is always foolish, regardless of the package it comes in.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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