The wellspring of ethics

Most of us have at some time been faced with the temptation to cut a corner, to do something a little less thoroughly or responsibly than we are able. It may come when a parent has to go that last tortuous mile to instill a needed lesson in a child, when a businessman has to strike a balance between an advertising campaign that might be effective and one that's socially responsible, or when a journalist is weighing the last few calls that will help ensure a fair and accurate story.

Sometimes the results of cheating a little can seem minimal. But consider the impact on a life or a society when such shortcuts become habit! Each misstep counts, so to speak, and the danger is that the very concept of right behavior can be distorted by expediency, rampant ambition, crass commercial motives, or mental laziness. As articles in the feature sections of today's Monitor point out, the problem of lax ethics is particularly urgent in the broadcast and print media, which so directly influence our lives and our democratic system of government.

Rules, formal or informal, play an important part in bolstering ethical behavior. People need guidelines. But the best set of ethical guidelines is going to fall short if the individuals involved lack the motive, the inner commitment to what's right, that impels observance of fairness and compassion.

So how can that motive, that commitment to right, be ensured? Through history , a proven source of ethical behavior has been the demand to obey the one God, understood to be faultlessly upright. God's very nature becomes a standard by which to judge right from wrong. As Moses proclaimed: ''He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.'' n1

n1 Deuteronomy 32:4.

Looking to the New Testament, we see that Christ Jesus condemned revenge, pretentiousness - all the base motivations that would undermine ethics in any field. He also set forth the most pointed and penetrating demand ever made on humanity: ''Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'' n2

n2 Matthew 5:48.

Obeying this demand is both the work of a lifetime and a moment-by-moment, day-by-day challenge. Yet it's the most natural thing in the world to meet this challenge, since God is a God of love, as the Bible so clearly states, and He impels thoughtfulness and compassion. God is Principle, the source of fundamental, universal law, impelling right behavior, empowering us with the ability to do what is good. Meeting the challenge is natural - and inevitable - because we're actually the children of God; our true selfhood is God's very likeness, at this moment the expression of His perfect being.

Even as we're striving to open thought to the ethical influence of God's law, we may be tempted to think how easy it would be to cut a few corners, to swerve toward expediency and away from Principle. That's the lure of what St. Paul called the ''old man,'' the earthly, mortal sense of man, which, by its very nature, knows no standard beyond the self-interest of the moment. But as Paul assures us in another passage, ''As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.'' n3 The ''heavenly'' was exemplified by Jesus, whose behavior was unfailingly ethical because it sprang from an understanding of God and of his relationship to God.

n3 I Corinthians 15:49.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, observes, ''Whatever is not divinely natural and demonstrably true, in ethics, philosophy, or religion, is not of God but originates in the minds of mortals.'' Further along she continues, ''Wholly apart from this mortal dream, this illusion and delusion of sense, Christian Science comes to reveal man as God's image, His idea, coexistent with Him - God giving all and man having all that God gives.'' n4

n4 The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, pp. 4-5.

Integrity, then, is not something imposed on us but something inherent in our nature as God's child, as His image and likeness. But what is the means through which this spiritual insight takes tangible shape in ethical behavior? The answer is prayer - consistent, conscientious communion with God. Prayer demands a humble turning away from materiality, from the appearance of short-term gains and tempting gratifications, and toward the eternal facts of God and man. Such prayer can clarify what is ethical and provide the spiritual muscle to act accordingly - regardless of the opinions of others. A primary reward of aligning oneself with spiritually founded ethics is the enhanced meaning given one's life and work. Individuals thus become beacons shedding the light of ethical behavior on every endeavor. DAILY BIBLE VERSE The righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright. Psalms 11:7ist, Scientist, and Miscellany, pp. 4-5.

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