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ViewPoint - Kohlberg's Stages

Rob Carr - 12 November 2003
"As a paramedic, I often found that I was confronted with situations where I had to decide to follow the law or follow God's law that values life."

Comments: In general, I thought that your pages on Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Reasoning was quite good.

~ Jesus' Stage 6 ~

I have a problem with your analysis of the Stage 6 reasoning. The Sawi people are a poor example. I'm not sure how to rate their value of treachery. I'd suspect that it would be Stage 1 or Stage 2 reasoning, although I might even argue for Stage 0! The problem, therefore, is not with Stage 6 reasoning, but with the entire society not being above a very low level of reasoning.

What I find amazing is that Jesus uses Stage 6 reasoning so much. Should one obey the law and not heal on the Sabbath? Here, Jesus clearly violates God's law. He disobeys the injunction to not work on the Sabbath, because God has a higher law - love your neighbor as yourself. The law said that the woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death. While He simply suggested that the person without sin should be the one to throw the stone, the crucial point is that He did not throw the stone, even though He was without sin. The law of God requiring stoning was pushed aside by a much greater law of God: mercy.

The scribes and the lawyers, working on Stage 3 or 4 morality, could not comprehend Stage 6. This infuriated them and hardened their hearts against Jesus.

~ Stage 7 ~

I personally believe that there is a Stage 7 morality. There's a common question in Christian circles: What would Jesus do? The problem is, we are human, while Jesus was both divine and human. We are fallible. Our reasoning is suspect.

As a paramedic, I often found that I was confronted with situations where I had to decide to follow the law or follow God's law that values life.

Now, some of the times, the proper course of action was obvious. According to the law at the time, paramedics were not permitted to initiate advanced life support without a doctor's orders. We also knew that, in a cardiac arrest, every second without defibrillation reduced the chance that the patient would be resuscitated. We went ahead and defibrillated, asking permission after the fact. Shortly afterward, the law was changed so that the right thing could be done.

Other times, my decision was wrong. Breaking the vehicular laws seemed like a good idea when we had a dying patient in the truck. It seemed obvious that getting the patient to the hospital faster was the proper thing to do. But studies showed that driving like a maniac did not improve patient survival, and in fact decreased it - and also endangered us and bystanders. I was surprised to find out how hard it was to change my thoughts on the subject. Driving fast is fun, and it made us feel good - feel like we were doing something.

It was then that I came up with Level 7 reasoning. Level 7 says that Level 6 reasoning is flawed because it assumes that we know everything and are reasoning without emotions, desires, or mental illness affecting us.

Level 7 reasoning would state that we are not Jesus. We should work within the law whenever possible. It's paramount that things be thought through beforehand, and problems (like defibrillation) should be cleared up before they become an issue. Violating the law should be a last resort.

~ Response to Heinz Dilemma ~

In answer to the Heinz scenario, I would argue that Heinz should take every other possible course of action before stealing the medicine. For example, going to a church and begging for the money to buy the medicine would be the first step. Contacting politicians to correct the mess that is our medical system would be another avenue. Only when all other avenues failed should Heinz steal. Once the medicine is given to his wife, he should turn himself in and throw himself on the mercy of the courts.

As Christians, we have to realize that our decisions affect the morality of other's actions. If the church refuses to help this man in this desperate situation, do we not bear responsibility for the theft? If we do not push and prod our government to fix the inadequacies of the medical system, are we not also responsible for Heinz's theft? Should we not be punished along with him?

This might seem like an unrealistic scenario, until you consider all the people dying in Africa from HIV. What is more important: human life or corporate profits? This is an obvious oversimplification, but I still wonder. Are our decisions truly made based on ethical principles, or simply on what is convenient or what we want?

Are we any better than the Satanists whose moral precept is "Do as thou wilt"? Or are we simply couching our response in sheep's clothing?

When Paul says that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13), he knows of what he speaks.