Situational Ethics The New Morality and the Fundamental Option Copyrighted material that appears in this article is included under the provisions of the Fair Use Clause of the National Copyright Act, which allows limited reproduction of copyrighted materials for educational and religious use when no financial charge is made for viewing. www.SaintPaulMinistries.net
In 1946 Pope Pius XII visited the United States and addressed The United States Catechetical Congress held in Boston, with these words.
“ The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.”
Ten years later The Westminster Press published a book entitled “Situation Ethics: The new Morality” by Joseph Fletcher.
Fletcher was a leading academic involved in the topics of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, eugenics, and cloning.
Ordained as an Episcopal priest, he later renounced his belief in God and became an atheist.
His theory of situational ethics refuses to accept an absolute standard of morality.
He claims that the morality of a person’s actions or
inactions can only be judged within the particular situation or circumstances surrounding the action.
Fletcher feels that lying, premarital sex, abortion, adultery, and murder could be acceptable under certain circumstances.
Such a decision is not merely an excusable evil, it is positively good.
Fletcher’s claim is whatever is the most loving action in circumstances it is morally correct.
Imagine a child telling their parent, “It’s okay to lie because under the circumstances I felt I might be punished, so lying is excusable.”
Situational ethics has given the child the ability to loose their sense of sin.
Situational ethics seems to be a growing and pervasive attitude found in our culture.
Let’s turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official teaching of the Church.
1753 A good intention (for example, that of helping one's neighbor) does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just . The end does not justify the means.
Fletcher is in opposition to the well established moral decision making process that makes use of virtues.
The concept we call the “Fundamental Option” holds that each person has a basic orientation either toward or away from God and that orientation affects the person’s behavior.
Pope Paul II in his encyclical Splendor of Truth clears up any confusion and tells us,
“ It has been rightly pointed out that freedom is not only the choice for one or another particular action; it is also, within that choice, a decision about oneself and a setting of one's own life for or against the Good, for or against the Truth, and ultimately for or against God.”
Clearly, a person’s actions speak about the person’s character.
You can’t sit on the fence. Every one of your actions is either for or against:
The theory of fundamental option dates back to the time of St. Augustine (354-430).
If decisions are made with God in mind they will be made out of love and service to others.
If decisions are made out of self-love and self-service then the decisions are against God.
Good, Truth and God
Sin is a result of a distortion of good, truth and desire to please God. A mature soul makes decisions with these elements in mind. The, WWJD, What Would Jesus Do, concept.
An immature soul makes decisions based upon self- good, self-truth and self-love.
They justify their actions by giving precedence to the situation or circumstances as their primary motivating factor for decision making.
This is best summed up in the movie “Shooter,” when the nasty senator says, “Truth is what I say it is.”
This decision making process is sinful because the primary concern is self-interest, rather than love and service to others.
Blame the Victim
In Fletcher’s book “Situation Ethics: The new Morality,” he leads his readers to believe that their self-interest takes precedence in decision making and therefore any self-determined decision is justified.
In our earlier example of the child caught in a lie the child’s justification for telling the lie would be, “It’s not my fault I told the lie, it’s your fault because I feared punishment.”
The child then blames the victim of the lie while at the same time freeing themselves of guilt.
Fletcher would agree with the child, Pope John Paul II wouldn’t.
In Pope John Paul II encyclical, On Reconciliation and Penance he says, “Likewise, care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of "fundamental option“. . . intending thereby an explicit and formal contempt for God or neighbor.
For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered.
In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God's
love for humanity and the whole of creation: the person turns away from God and loses charity.”
Why then have people lost their sense of sin?
They have allowed, self-interest, or situational ethics, to replace love of neighbor and love of God.
Ask yourself these questions, “When I make decisions am I thinking about God and my eternal reward or about myself and worldly rewards?”