Morals, ethics, and laws are three different things.
Morals come from a divine source; they are foundational and, it could be argued, absolute regardless whether we agree with them and abide by them or not. Ethics are mankind’s way of codifying standards apart from a divine source, whether springing from a philosophy that is utilitarian, practical, altruistic, lack of purposeful harm, social contract, or what have you. Ethics are circumstantial. Laws are the details, whether coming straight from the undercurrent of moral absolutes via ethics, or coming from ethics without explicitly acknowledging moral codes. Either way, it’s a trickle down from the immovable to the detailed. Separating them this way helps me see them a bit clearer.
All ethical codes and laws are of temporal good, not eternal good; that’s the purpose moral absolutes serve. Ethical codes and laws will always eventually be shown futile because — and this is key — they do not change a person on the inside, but only recommend restraint of outward actions. True restraint, however, only comes from within, thus the emphasis on “internalizing” whatever ethical code one takes as their own. Think of all the laws passed in a city. Now imagine that city has suffered a cataclysm. No amount of signs reminding people not to steal will matter one bit; it’s every person for themselves. But no worry in imagining; it’ll happen again in just a little while. The world doesn’t go for too long in a state of meek stasis because we still haven’t been changed on the inside.
Now fast-forward to the end of the world as our solar system rips apart by colliding with another. If all is lost at that point, which laws matter and which do not? The correct answer from the anti-theist is that none of them do except as a form of control, a form of social etiquette. But when the earth’s mantle is caving in, etiquette matters not.
When did those laws cease to matter? A day before the cataclysm? A month? Five years or a thousand years before? There’s no clear time when they would be futile, so they shouldn’t matter now. It truly is just a matter of time. Let’s not begrudge a few moments here or there when the universe is winding down to its eventual heat death.
Laws are not an objective — immovable — standard. Whenever someone sees fit to break a law, they will and with little consequence. But breaking a moral injunction is akin to disemboweling your own conscience. The consequences are internal and they are grave, eventually spilling out over your stumbling feet. Without an objective moral standard, we tug at the fragile strings of what it means to be human, not realizing it is the cord holding back the hand with Dorian Gray’s dagger. Pull too hard and the youth dies in anguish with nothing but the remnants of a ruined life painted for all to see.
While each decade seems to display mankind’s increased ruination, keeping objective moral standards in place is our only saving grace. At the world’s end only an objective moral standard has enough impetus upon the human heart for right action, and that only comes from God, along with His promised strength to accomplish it.