In the Peter Barnes play, The Ruling Class, the schizophrenic earl is asked how he knows that he is God. He replies “Simple, when I pray to him, I find I am talking to myself.” But we do not need to be schizophrenic to suspect that when we ask ourselves about the will of God in such or such a matter (or fashionably ask: “What would Jesus say?) the answer we give owes more to our own will than it does to God’s.
This is not just an observation we may make about ourselves, interesting tests have confirmed that our instinct to confabulate God with ourselves can be measured in our brains. When, for instance, we are asked to think about both our own person, and about being English, two separated parts of our brain light up to deal with each concept. But when we think both of our own person and God, nothing happens: the brain does not record a difference.
So we are put on warning. When we are faced by a moral decision, we have to allow for this instinct by opening our minds to the fact that our inclination may be wrong. And that goes against the grain. Since we know that the final decision must accord with our reason, reason itself requires us to set aside our arational tendencies in order to find the truth. So, let’s have a look at some moral issues to test how we handle this.
You have to choose a primary school for your child. One possibility is the Catholic school down the road. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a good scholastic record, and you feel that your child may be disadvantaged at secondary school. Another primary is not a faith school, but it has an excellent academic record. Which one are you going to choose?
You are a journalist on a successful newspaper. Your salary is not as high as you would like. But it has been explained to you, on the quiet, that the paper never questions your expenses – within a reasonable figure. And that’s to your advantage because expenses are not taxable. Will you take advantage of this convenience?
You have a young friend who often listens to your advice. You know that he is in a sexual relationship but you suspect that he is not using any contraception. Would you advise him to get equipped and protect his girlfriend, or would this simply double the wrongdoing?
You are the next of kin of an elderly patient who is dying in hospital. The doctor tells you that the patient, currently unconscious, could live for a few more days, and perhaps have episodes of some consciousness – which may well involve considerable pain. The doctor suggests that, except for the continuance of morphine, treatment should cease and the patient be allowed to die, perhaps in the next few hours. Will you agree to this?
I realise that final decisions would require more information than I have given, but perhaps this will be enough for you to test any difference between what you may think and what God may think.