Non-Conflicting Absolutism (NCA)
One way to deal with moral dilemmas is to argue that they are only apparent conflicts but not real conflicts, hence the term Non-Conflicting Absolutism. This is one of the most popular positions. It is held by many great theologians such as, John Murray, Walter Kaiser, and John Frame. This view holds that God has given us absolute norms that cannot be altered. Any apparent conflict is due to a lack of knowledge rather than a real conflict in the commands.
Whenever there seems to be a conflict, such as in the case of the Midwives in Exodus 1, where a person must choose between loving her neighbor and lying, the reason the conflict seems to exist is because of a lack of knowledge in how to handle the situation. Whatever the person must do to love her neighbor she must do it without lying. A lie is always a lie and can never be justified by a non-conflicting absolutist. In this case the fact that God honored the midwives was not because of their lying but because of their faith. But had they chose not to lie, they would not have been held responsible for the deaths of the children, because they were not the one that would have killed them. That sin would rest upon the Egyptians.
The proponent of NCA is not ignorant of the effects of the decisions they make. Like the utilitarian, they try to look at the results of their actions, even if their actions are ethical. In the case of the Nazi’s at the door, it would not be unethical to tell them where the Jews are hiding if there is no other alternative. This is because the conflict is only apparent and not actual. Though it is not actually what they want to happen.
But what about the scenario of a pregnant mother who has a tumor that will kill her if not removed before the child is born, but to remove it would kill the child. In this type of situation they would bring into play, what is called the theory of double effect. What do we do in this situation? Whatever we do will have two effects, one positive and the other negative. In a case like this, an NCA proponent would say it is alright to try to save the mother because the death of the child is not intended. The action that they are taking is ethical. They are trying to save the mother not kill the child. And since there is no real ethical conflict the death of the child is a negative result of a positive action.
Strengths of This Position
1) It has a strong understanding of absolutes. There is never a time where lying becomes justified. In holding this position they seem to be very serious about the nature of absolutes.
2) They do everything they can to protect the nature of God. Since all of God’s moral laws stem from His nature, they argue that to believe in a conflict of moral laws is to believe in the possibility of conflict in God’s nature.
3) It can also be argue quite forcibly from scripture, though many Bible scholars would disagree.
1) In the case of the mother and the child, they seem to neglect the fact that their actions are really causing the death of the child. The argument of “we didn’t intend to” seems a bit of a weak one.
2) What do we do about David eating the “bread of the presence” which was not lawful for anyone to do, but is justified by Jesus (See Mark 2:26)? This is a clear violation of an absolute of the old covenant. Does this mean that David simply avoided the sin by not intending to eat the bread, but intended to feed the starving people and himself? This seems to redefine certain sins in order to justify others. It is a bit shaky but with some argument it may hold up.
Next we will look at the conflicting absolutist.