Moral, Immoral, or Amoral

On Tuesday I wrote an article called “Tolerance, Hate Speech, and Dialogue.” The material covered in that article spoke about the meaning of tolerance and the restrictions people want to put on our church in general, but especially on us sharing our Catholic moral teaching.

Continuing the articles I have written in recent months on morality, today I would like to talk about three terms, “moral”, “immoral” and “amoral.”

Moral acts are good acts. Morality is a system that helps us define what is right and wrong. In secular terms, morality can be based on duty and/or Utilitarianism (one ought to do what is good for the greatest number). For others, their ethics are based on what gives them the greatest pleasure. We call this Hedonism. Duty and Utilitarianism have important rules to play but can be subjective and thus dependent on personal opinion. Certainly, Hedonism is very subjective as different people find pleasure in different ways. At least it is subjective when it is based on earthly pleasure. I say at least because if we define pleasure by that which leads us to eternal life, it is in accord with God’s will.

As people of faith, the source of our morality is found in the Bible and developed in the teachings of the Catholic Church. Believing in God is not simply the way we pray. Believing in God involves how we treat our bodies and others. Hence, morality is an essential part of our faith.

Immoral acts, of course, are those acts that go against what we know to be right. Immorality is wrong behavior. It might be wrong because of bad consequences for us as individuals or because of the effect the immoral acts have on other people. Again, it is God who determines what is right and wrong. Acts that wrong in God’s eyes are sin.

Amoral acts (also referred as “unmoral”) are acts that are seen as neither good or bad. For example, the color of the shirt you are wearing is not moral or immoral. It is simply a matter of taste. One person might love the color and another hate it but it is neither good or bad. It is a matter of taste. However, that does not mean all decisions about the clothes one wears are amoral. That is hardly the case. Clothing that is revealing and seductive has moral recuperations for both the person wearing the clothing and people looking at that person with lust based on their clothing. The latter definitely objectives the person, focusing on the person only for their physical beauty. In fact, the person choosing to wear such clothing to get others to look at them may be objectifying themselves. Seeing a person only for their physical beauty is lust and an immoral act.

Sexual behavior is very much a part of Catholic morality and what is sin. This is rooted in biblical teaching such as the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” and verses like what is found in chapter 18 of the Book of Leviticus.

Another example of acts that might seem “amoral” is behaviors at work. God does not care when you take a break at work but God does care if you take an hour break when you are only properly entitled to a fifteen minute break. We are to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2401 and following on the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.”). We must consider the effect any action we take at work or at home has on another person when asking if it is “amoral.”

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people are discarding what the Bible teaches. Some even discard the concept that there is a god. These people don’t always discard the very notion of morality but there are those who are called relativists that deny there is any truth. If there is no truth, there is no morality.

There is a God. There is Truth that comes from God. There are moral acts and there are immoral acts. Lord, please help us to do what is moral.


Fr. Jeff

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