Is doing no harm a sufficient moral principle? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Often today, we don’t hear about if an action is good or evil. We hear about if it is harmful or not. Now, causing harm is one aspect to consider in morality, but it is not the only. When it comes to the idea of redefining marriage, part of the question asked is “Well who is it hurting?”
For one thing, changing the meaning of marriage for anyone changes it for everyone. Everyone’s marriage is shifted to not a union designed to bring about children for the prolonging of civilization, but rather to a sort of union from two people who are committed to one another. By this standard, we could say that two roommates could be married or a brother and sister who choose to live together are married or a son who brings his mother who is a new widow into his home are married.
However, while those are important situations to bring up, why not go back and question this principle about not harming anyone. Consider the scenario of a peeping Tom for example. he has found a peephole outside of a showering area where he can stand and watch naked women shower. He is never caught and the women never have any idea they are being watched? Are any of them being harmed? If not, then can we say this is wrong?
Consider also a dentist who has a private practice. To keep costs down, he doesn’t even have a secretary. He works alone and makes all his appointments. From time to time, beautiful women come in and he has to put them under for surgical operations. What they don’t know is that sometimes when they are unconscious, he undresses them and fondles them. The women never get pregnant and so never find out about what he’s done. Has he done any harm?
If you’re a Christian or even most any other kind of theist, you could say this man has damaged his standing before God in each case and so he has done harm at least to himself. He has lowered himself from being what a human being ought to be to being something less. If you are a secularist though, you do not have this option.
Not only that, but we know that there are times that causing harm is the good thing to do. I have a friend who just had a quadruple bypass operation. Right now, he is still in a lot of pain. I have told him some about my having scoliosis surgery and how I too was in a lot of pain and understood what that was like. In both cases, our doctors harmed us and left us with tremendous pain. The thing is, we knew this would happen and we went through it willingly and even paid our doctors for it. Why? Because we were not being harmed to be harmed. We were being given some degree of harm in order to get a greater good.
Another example is telling a loved one a hard truth. Sometimes, this is very harmful to the person for the immediate and short-term, but it is good in the long run. Again, consequences are not all that is to be considered, but they are a part of this. Consequences alone are insufficient. We need to look at the action, who is doing it, and why they are doing it.
No one being harmed by itself is insufficient. By this standard, the Peeping Tom and the dentist are both okay. By a Christian standard, they are in the wrong because they are lowering themselves as human beings and actually in the long run making themselves more likely to be the people who will take further steps to do actual visible harm to others.
Our moral thinking needs to go deeper than just utilitarianism. We need to look at who we are and why we do what we do.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)