Morality Has No Expiration Date

Downton AbbeyI have a confession to make.

I watch Downton Abbey.

Not in a “my wife makes me watch it” way. In an “I can’t believe how good this is!” way.

Yes, I actually like it.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Downton Abbey (not Downtown Abbey – pronouncing it that way makes fans cringe) is a British drama that was set in the 1910s when it started several seasons ago, but has since moved into the Roaring ’20s.

I seldom talk about my TV viewing habits in this forum. But I’m bringing it up today because in last night’s episode there was a fleeting moment where an argument was made which always sets my teeth on edge.

Lady Mary, around whose fortunes the show revolves (did you like how I used British-sounding syntax there?) has been carrying on an affair with a suitor. Her grandmother, the dowager countess – played with scene-stealing bravado by the great Maggie Smith – has discovered her granddaughter’s moral lapse (not Mary’s first) and confronts her on it.

Mary’s response includes mildly-cloaked disdain for the dowager’s unevenly-applied moral codes.

“Obviously, it’s shocking to someone of your generation,” Mary says, rolling her eyes.

“Don’t let us hide behind the changing times, my dear,” responds granny. “This is shocking to most people in 1924!”

Their exchange is well-written and brilliantly acted. It’s delivered with the intent on putting a wry smile on viewers’ faces in 2015, which it did.


But It’s the Millennium!

I don’t know if people actually used such an argument in the 1920s, but it’s likely that they did. I do know this, though. People have used it all my life.

When people run out of valid arguments to explain their questionable and/or outright sinful behavior, they start quoting the date. As if we weren’t aware of the concept of a calendar. 

I’ve heard everything from “it’s the ’70s, man, don’t bum me out,” to “you can’t seriously still believe that in 2015, can you?” People were especially obnoxious about it at the turn of the millennium.

This is not to say that our moral choices shouldn’t be called into question. People often got things wrong in the past. As I write this post, it’s Martin Luther King Jr Day. Race relations are for from perfect today (2014 was a particularly rough year for them) but progress has been made. I cringe when I think about the kinds of racist (and sexist) talk and behavior people accepted in the 1950s and 60s. Thanks to people like Dr King, much of what was accepted then is all-but-universally denounced today.

But other moral choices are made less poorly today than they were then.

No, I’m not writing this post to make a point about any particular moral issue. Instead, I want to make this one plea. Especially to pastors and other (hopefully) moral leaders:

When addressing a moral issue, stop using the calendar on the wall as part of your argument. Today’s date has nothing to do with it!

When people say “but it’s 2015!” to excuse bad behavior, my response is usually something along the lines of, “it’s also Monday. What’s your point?” The day of the week means as much as the year on the calendar does.

By the way, this plea to the calendar to enforce a moral argument doesn’t just flow one way. While libertines (like Lady Mary) use it to excuse bad behavior, it’s also used by self-righteous moralists (like granny) when they complain about “kids these days”, the “modern church” and “back in my day…”

Insisting on the moral superiority of “the way things used to be” is no better an argument than condescendingly explaining “the way things are today”.


One Simple Request

Whichever side of an issue you’re on, feel free to bolster your argument by appealing to logic or scripture – especially scripture (properly contextualized and interpreted, that is). Or, better yet, use both. But I have one simple request to make of you today.

Stop pointing to the calendar to make your moral arguments!

If it was wrong then, it’s wrong now. If we were wrong about it then, show me how we got it wrong and I’ll be more than willing to change.

The calendar is a helpful tool when planning a birthday party. But it is woefully inadequate for making moral decisions.

Morality has no expiration date.

(Please use the comments to chat about the basis of this post – namely, the proper basis for moral decisions. But please do not use this as a forum to debate your stance on any particular moral issue. That rabbit-trail will turn bad, quickly. I will delete any comments that go that way.)


So what do you think? Have you heard or used similar calendar-on-the-wall arguments? 

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3 thoughts on “Morality Has No Expiration Date”

  1. Great article. Love it! I had to confront a man years ago for his immorality. He was recently widowed at the age of 75. He had met a lady who was married and she moved in. She was 63 and a church secretary. I showed up twice at his home (he was a member) to plead with him to repent and stop. His son called me and basically said I should leave his father alone because he is in his 70’s. So I asked his son, “Is there an age limit on sin? I just want to know where that is in the Bible.” Rather than repent, the man and his girlfriend left the church and tried to join two other Baptist churches.

  2. This is a great article Karl! I was pondering about how this fits in with today’s happenings with ISIS, more specifically how we could reply to those same people when they then cite the Spanish Inquisition (500 years ago) or the Crusades (1000+ years ago) as evidence that Christians are just as bad as the Moslems who are torturing and executing Christians in the Middle East today (I believe Barak Obama did just that recently)?

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