Sometimes there is a wrong answer

By Richard Norman

I watched Oprah the other day. I do not watch her show regularly, but I am occasionally interested because Oprah seems to express some of the most popular spiritual and moral ideas. On the day that I watched, Oprah spoke with a writer, Gary Zukav, who explained various ways of resolving relational problems for couples.

During his explanation, the psychologist began to describe the nature of choice. "Making choices is like choosing a door to walk through," he said. "Choosing to open and walk through one door brings a new choice, a new set of doors. Choices have consequences, and there is always an optimum door, the best choice." I went along with him, until Zukav continued, "There are no wrong choices. Even though the consequences may be painful, no choice is ever wrong." This gave me pause, as it did for Oprah, who commented, "They sure can feel wrong, though."

Is it really true that there are no wrong choices, and, therefore, no wrong actions?

Please note that these choices are the type that are usually called "moral choices." What he was asking people to believe was that there is no hierarchy of moral value in either context. The question "should I have sex with someone other than my wife or not?" is given no more moral import than the question "should I eat soup or sandwiches for lunch?"

The reason this kind of idea gives us pause is its lunacy, of course. Deciding to punch one’s sister in the stomach is qualitatively different from deciding to tie one’s shoelace. It does not just feel wrong to hit one’s sister, it is wrong! Feelings in themselves might not give us reason to believe that a particular action is wrong or right, but they are often good indicators that reasons exist.

People have a startling capacity for justifying their own immoral actions. I stand in awe of some of my own masterworks of self-deception. When we evaluate the decisions of others, however, we give no mercy to the kind of nonsense that would excuse wrong choices, especially when those choices have painful consequences for ourselves. What is "borrowing" to us is called "stealing" when done to us; what would be unkindness in others is excused by a "bad day" when we act in the same way.

The discussion of painful consequences should have shown Zukav the truth, especially in his guru role on Oprah. If a choice one makes brings about painful consequences, the nature of those consequences should be a clue as to the moral nature of the choice. No one has ever been hurt when a date bought vanilla rather than chocolate ice cream (or, at least, I hope not). There have been many hurt in unimaginable ways when their date decided to rape them. To call the former action wrong in a moral sense would be foolish; to fail to condemn the latter would be a sign of deep moral ignorance, a symptom of a diseased conscience.

I can only imagine disastrous consequences if we, as individuals, continue to move towards an amoral culture. We will never be free from morality, nor should we want to be; without morality, our humanity would be quick to leave us.

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