(Excerpts from The Very Idea! by Homer Cimmerian)
Justice has long been depicted as a set of scales.
Like a seesaw, the nature of balancing scales requires a fulcrum, or crux, which defines the point of balance. Spring type scales require a reference point, usually the number zero, from which all the other numbers take their meaning. Given a set of scales with numbers starting at zero, one might be inclined to say that only cheaters do not use zero as a standard.
But then, how can one “cheat” unless there exists some standard that defines cheating versus not cheating.
If there is no basic reference point, who is to say when something is out of balance.
If there is no fulcrum, who is to say that this much on this side is ‘too much’ and that much on that side is “not enough”!
Even yelling at somebody, “Alright! I’ve had enough!” presupposes that we have a standard by which we can determine when we have had enough.
Therefore, the very idea of justice presupposes standards.
The world is full of standards.
We have standard time (invented in 1876 by Sir Sandford Fleming, a Scottish-born Canadian engineer and inventor, after he missed a train in Ireland), a standard numeral zero, a standard gauge (a railroad track having a width of 56 1/2 inches), standard illumination (candela – look it up yourself), standard meter (1,650,763.70 wavelengths in a vacuum of the orange-red radiation of krypton 86), standard electrical current (ampere), and standard direction (magnetic north).
We even have standard deviation.
America has a standard currency (one dollar), weight (one pound), measurement (one foot), and speed (miles per hour).
Our highways have standardized numbers (East to West highways end in even numbers, while North to South highways end in odd numbers; longitudinal freeways increase in increments of 5 from the West Coast eastward, and latitudinal freeways in increments of 10 from the South northward).
Tropical storms have standard descriptions (in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific, a tropical storm whose winds reach a maximum sustained speed of 75 mph is called a hurricane; in the Western Pacific the same type storm is called a typhoon) and standardized names (the first tropical storm of each new season begins with the letter “A,” the second with “B” and so forth).
Admittedly, not all standards are constant.
For example, Sir Fleming proposed 24 standard time zones, each covering 15 degrees longitude out of a total 360 degrees. But, political considerations have increased the actual number of standard time zones in use worldwide.
Then there’s the standard year. Since a year equals the length of time it takes the earth to complete one full revolution around the sun, an actual year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds. But, our standard practice is to observe three 365 day years and one 366 day year every four years, with a little adjustment for those missing minutes.
So, although our human derived standards may not be constant, it appears that nature itself is quite standardized.
Two kinds of standards seem apparent: God-made, or natural, if you prefer, and human-made.
God-made standards include all natural things that we humans had nothing to do with deciding, like gravity, elemental compositions, tilt of the earth, basic structure of the atom and living things, etc.
Human-made standards include things like measurements, social policies, legislation, game rules, business policies, community laws, etc.
One might think human-made standards are always susceptible to change and God-made standards are always the same.
For example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) once realized that different places in the country used different standards to classify heat-related deaths.
Some classified a death as heat related when the body’s inner temperature was 105 degrees or above.
Others used that definition, plus they classified some deaths from heart attacks and other medical conditions as heat-related deaths, although body temperature was not above 105 degrees.
Following this discovery, the CDC initiated a study to formulate a federal definition of heat-related deaths. Yet, even if they established a standard federal definition, they could change it the next year if they wanted, and the next. It will not really matter.
One would think that a dead person is dead, hot or not, but there are varying thresholds used to define death. Even so, heat-related death classifications are statistical definitions; i.e., human-made standards for accounting purposes, and those standards can change because humans make them.
Conversely, a God-made standard, like gravity, would be constant, right? If you jump off a stump on earth, you would fall to the earth at a speed of 32 feet per second per second.
But, what if you were on the moon? You would fall slower. See, gravity is a dominate universal force that affects all matter and energy. However, the actual force of gravity varies universally depending on where one is located in the universe.
Which raises the question, “Does God change His standards depending on where we are?”
No, His standards remain constant. But, their impact on us may vary according to our circumstances.
For example, people jumping out of airplanes without a parachute can get seriously hurt.
However, the same people jumping out of airplanes with a parachute that work usually do not get hurt.
Nature doesn’t change, but the jumpers alter their circumstances, thereby “altering” nature’s impact.
Or consider a car wreck. The laws of motion and gravity do not magically change when you buckle your seat-belt. But, the circumstances of wearing a seatbelt can drastically affect how those laws impact you during a wreck.
Even more simply consider a book. Released over open space, it will fall to the ground. Laid on a table, it will sit still.
The Law of Gravity itself is not suspended, but it is “suspended” for the book because of the book’s circumstances.
Let’s take the idea of two kinds of standards a little further. What happens when some people view something as a human-made standard, and others view the same thing as a God-made standard? Friction.
For example, friction has existed for years about such issues as “When does life begin?”, “What is the definition of marriage and family?”, “Is the Bible the Word of God or does it just contain the Word of God?”, and “Is Jesus Christ really the only way to Heaven?”
Friction also arises concerning the relativity of God-made standards. Some argue that in the Old Testament time of the Law, God sanctioned the death penalty.
Yet, in the New Testament time of grace, Jesus seemed more forgiving. Others would argue that some Old Testament laws are still valid today.
For people who think there are no standards, consider typing on a keyboard. Note, as long as you type with your hands in the standard typing position, people can read what you type. However, if you shift your hands over one set of keys to the right, you get a jumble of letters and symbols that make absolutely no sense unless a reader keys the puzzle of letters to a code based on a specific adjustment to the standard typing position. Just one little shift from the standard hand position for typing, and communication is severely impaired.
Or, consider an auditory demonstration. Pick any instrument that uses a standard hand or finger position. Then play a few bars of your favorite song. Then, shift that standard position over one key or fret or valve and play the same few bars again. What happens? Noise, not music.
We build highways and expect people to obey standard rules – stay on your side and in your lane, drive within certain speed limits, don’t drive in the medians or off the shoulders, don’t tailgate, use your lights, obey traffic signs and signals, drive only with a license, carry insurance, etc.
Yet, there are some who purport that there are no moral boundaries: no high ways or low ways or lanes to follow, no limits, no rules, no licenses, no liabilities.
But, historical experience, general reason and tradition, and most religions point out that such claims are not true.
Moral, though invisible, courses exist for human interrelationships just as much as visible roads exist for travel.
Unfortunately, we often fall victim to the “I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it” syndrome. In spite of ample evidence littering the landscape of off road relationships, we ignore the facts and still deny that moral standards exist. Yet, we accept the realities of wind, gravity and thought, though they are invisible and act according to unseen rules and boundaries.
Take unsubstantial fire, for instance. It is wonderful when contained in the hearth, in the burner, or on a candle. Yet, let fire roam freely, and it can devastate.
Likewise, wind and electricity – harnessed can equal power, while unharnessed can equal destruction.
Or consider water. Water acts according to unseen rules over which we may have some power, but not much, comparatively.
The rains fall, the rivers flow, and the tide comes in and goes out and there is not a whole lot we can do about it. Not only are our fancy forecasts and updates observatory, not administrative, but water itself is part of life on this earth. Whether we like it or not, we cannot exist without water. There are no recorded elections where the people voted to make water an essential part of human life, nor are there any such recorded decrees by an earthly government. Neither could we decree nor vote on our independence from water. We are bound by unseen rules to drink water, or die.
Obviously, just as there exist without our consent standards in the physical realm, so standards exist in the moral realm. After all, good and evil, justice and injustice, right and wrong, love and hate – as basic standards – reveal their existence throughout recorded human history. Even polygamous and cannibalistic cultures have exhibited social standards like “One man, many women” (as opposed to “One woman, many men”) and “Don’t eat anyone from your own tribe” (as opposed to “Eat whomever you like”).
Now, obviously, not everybody likes hand-me-down standards. So, sometimes people try to change standards to make things seem better than they really are.
For example, administrators of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) have discussed changing the scoring so that the average score will remain consistent over time. Now, this does not mean that future average scoring students will be as smart as past average scoring students, it just means that the test scores will look consistent on paper.
James Garfield, our twentieth U.S. President, once served as principal of Hiram College in Ohio. While there, a student’s father asked if the college would simplify the course of study so his son might “go through by a shorter route.”
“Certainly,” Garfield replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash, He requires only two months.”
Squashes or oaks, standardized testing has become one way of determining what students know at given points in time. For example, a teacher might teach 3 + 3 = 6 and 3 x 3 = 9. By giving all students in the class a standard test: 3 + 3 = ? and 3 x 3 = ? educators can evaluate student learning and perhaps teacher effectiveness.
Utilized nationwide, such standardized tests provide a basic evaluation tool. However, trends against any standards anywhere threaten such “discriminatory judging” that might “make persons feel bad about themselves.” Therefore, in some people’s misguided attempts to express compassion, they lose sight of the point of an educational system to begin with: to teach standard knowledge and help develop standard skills that people need to function as healthy, productive citizens. For, if we fail to teach students basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should not expect them to function well in a society that requires such to survive, much less succeed.
A similar trend underlies the agenda to legalize some crimes in our country. Since the crime rate is so high, we seemingly have two options.
One, actually gain control of society such that the number of crimes drop.
Or, we can change the definition of crime.
Either one should lower the crime rate.
But, is it really numbers that we are concerned about? If so, then we have lost sight of the reason for laws in the first place.
The reason most crimes are crimes is because of the devastation such behavior causes – in the lives of the individuals who commit them, in the lives of their victims, and in the lives of everyone impacted.
The same trend underlies the attempt to make sexual immorality more socially acceptable.
Historically, God and godly people have never approved of select behaviors. Lying, murder, theft, gossip, cowardice, drunkenness, and slander are ranked right alongside adultery, fornication, and homosexual behavior as sins.
Yet, some people insist on reinterpreting or ignoring Scripture, history, and tradition. They do so because, they say, “We do not feel like there is anything wrong with such behavior” or “It is our opinion that such and such is not fair.” Based on their feelings and opinions, then, they commit to their cause no matter what and will not accept any doctrine or facts that discount their feelings or opinions.
Unfortunately, when subjectivity replaces objectivity, when feelings reign over facts, rational arguments cannot prevail. After all, feelings are feelings.
Although subject to roller coaster whims and circumstance, some people allow feelings unhampered rule.
“If it feels good,” many claim, “if it feels so right, then it must be good and right.”
In spite of it all, redefining standards does nothing to ensure that our students are smarter, our communities safer, or citizens more godly.
Changing standards can create an illusion that things are better, without actually making them better. Often, such activities help make things worse.
One person commented about such moral relativism, “They don’t even have a stable standard by which to measure improvement.”
A child once asked me, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“To get to the other side,” I ventured.
“No,” he replied, “because it was stupid.”
Likewise, it is stupid to cross the road of changing standards for the sake of making our statistics look better, or to make us feel better about ourselves and society.
Devout believers, especially, should stand unwaveringly in the face of moral relativists who want them to change their theology. They should proclaim boldly, “We are the standard. We are not going to water down our teachings, our beliefs, or our doctrine so that you can feel better about your sin” (Rush Limbaugh, III, “See, I Told You So,” Pocket Books, p. 97).