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Beyond Legislating Ethics

July 5, 1989



IN spite of the commendable effort given to legislating proper codes of conduct, it is helpful to remember that ethical behavior depends primarily on individuals and not on written laws. When thinking of ethics, I often remember an incident that occurred when I was a student in graduate business school. During an intense discussion of marketing strategy for a particular brand of radar detectors, a fellow student stunned the class. Responding to the professor's request for the details of her marketing strategy she explained she had not prepared one because she found it unethical to expend any effort on a product designed to skirt the law. This student's stand brought quite an unexpected conclusion to that day's marketing class.

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This type of perspective brings an essential ethical focus to government and business. For many people, ethical standards are largely determined by their understanding of God. If we accept ourselves as in fact God's children, totally spiritual, our grasp of ethics goes far beyond a listing of do's and don'ts that human law may provide.

If one really wants to, one can always find a way around human law. But one cannot so easily abrogate individual responsibility for what is honorable and right.

In this context we may need to look at the Ten Commandments and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as more than merely restrictive covenants. They can actually help us to understand our relationship to God and to our fellowman. When we are obedient to them, they become a ``spiritual rudder'' to guide us as we face temptations -- large or small -- that would lure us into unethical behavior. These rules are not meant to deprive us of genuine good, which comes from God. Instead, they enable us to determine our priorities and to check our motives. As Christ Jesus put it, ``No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.''1

In practical terms, this means that any temporary benefit derived from unethical practices is delusive because it blinds one to God's love. God is more than able to supply our needs abundantly. Indeed, meaningful and permanent good can only come from God, who is infinite good. The woman who discovered and founded Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes: ``From lack of moral strength empires fall. Right alone is irresistible, permanent, eternal.''2

When we know God as divine Principle -- that is, as man's divine Lawgiver -- we more readily perceive that it is He who gives us the ability to do right. As we yield to the law of Principle, desires and wants are changed by the purity and selflessness of Christ. This divine influence, or Christ, opens up new ways of doing things that bless both us and those around us. We may even be surprised at how much good is ours when we do things according to God's way.

When we follow the moral and spiritual standard Christ Jesus set for us, we may well be challenged by those who feel less obligated to love and obey God. But we are not alone in our efforts to live with integrity. God's divine laws undergird our efforts and bless us abundantly. Even more, such integrity begins to show us that man's real nature is Godlike -- created and sustained by God, who is divine Life and Love.

1Matthew 6:24. 2Miscellaneous Writings, p. 268.