Monday, May 23, 2011

Not all things legal are ethical

It is extremely easy and tempting for anyone (yes, even Catholics) to simply live life according to the laws laid down by the State. After all, the powers that be that govern any land are supposed to be the voice of justice and they have done the hard task of thinking of the repercussions of every law that is decreed. That leaves all the masses to just follow as told, and we should all be in a very happy state. Ah, if only it were so easy and clear. Ever since I have been a priest and have been hearing confessions, I realize that the general conscience of the penitents are formed (or deformed) more by what is legal than by what the Church declares to be moral and right.

“But Father, not every one is Catholic!” is something I can anticipate coming out from just about every reader’s lips. Granted, but herein lies the problem. The very word “Catholic” means far more than just a religion. It means Universal, and taken in the broadest sense of the word, how we form our conscience, how we make our decisions, have a common framework that covers all humanity and all life, regardless of race or religion. For instance, our high regard and utmost respect for life stays constant, and should not be different simply because one looks at life from a different religious lens.

I was in a conversation recently with an employer of a stay-in domestic helper and I casually asked about the maid and her weekly day off. I was told “she only gets one day off a month”, and when I asked why this was so, the answer that I got was “it’s in her contract, and within the Ministry of Manpower guidelines”.

This person is one of the many whose conscience seems to be confined and limited to what the state defines as legal and permissible, rather than what is ethical and just. Clearly, it didn’t disturb her one bit to give her maid one day a month of freedom and rest from work, when in her own working life, she would be loathe to be given anything less than a weekend off every week. ‘Protected’ behind what the state says is legal and equating this with being ethical is something that, sadly, has become commonplace even among us Catholics who are supposed to have sound consciences.

Yes, I agree that the pace in hectic Singapore is frenetic. Very often, both husband and wife are working to make ends meet, and looking after children and the elderly parents within the same household are difficult without help. This is where maids become almost de rigueur in every family. And I can understand that when the weekend comes, wanting the maid to do everything ‘because she is there’ becomes extremely tempting as an option. But there has to be an alternative because the maid is another human person with just as much dignity as you and I have, needing and appreciating just as much rest and recuperation for sound mind and body as you and I have, and yes, wanting social interaction as you and I would want. That maids are social human beings who really do have a need to mix around and have friends (yes, that includes boyfriends if they are not married back home) seems to be something that many employers simply cannot accept as humane and normal.

Perhaps we have not considered the possibility of taking turns to look after the sick and elderly during the weekends, where the different members of the family can sacrifice one weekend in rotation each so that everyone has a chance to care for the parent, giving the maid the needed rest, enabling her to do a much better and kinder job from Monday to Saturday.

This is just one very vivid example of taking advantage of something that is legal, and using it without wondering if it is ethical and just.

I am sure that this blog would disturb many who do employ maids and are giving them the ‘bare minimal’ in terms of benefits and living conditions. The role of the shepherd is to take care of the sheep under his care, and one of these ways is to heighten the conscience of the sheep.

This shepherd here is trying to get his sheep to think with both the mind and the heart.


  1. I love this entry Fr. Luke, especially because it highlights the treatment of maids, and by extension foreign workers. How often do people forget that they are human and deserving of dignity. Amazingly, it would seem that many have forgotten the golden rule and do not treat others as they would like to be treated, instead they look for excuses to justify their reasoning; for example, legal statutes.

    It is important that people realize that the law of the land isn't always ethical, and that as Catholics we must not simply weigh things on a scale as legal or illegal; rather, we should veiw actions on ethics of our faith. There are many laws in many countries that exploit the innocent; the biggest example of such exploitation is abortion, and while it is legal it is surely not ethical, as it destroys and exploits the most vulnerable in society.

    Ultimately, we must have a well formed conscience, but we must remember to allow the Church to help form it so that we can lead a Christian life and lead others to heaven. Perhaps if many would recite the Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity, they would be reminded of their duties to God and the necessity to love their neighbor as themselves.

  2. Hi Fr Luke..

    tks for yr insight. What's you have siad it's true. Evreyoen here, include catholics. tend to feel or act this way.. As long its' legal, who cares for ethically or morally wrong or not.

    I'm in biz..and i know and in biz there's a lot of underhand or undercutting and all sorts of others tactics. But most if not all dun care.. as long it's legal who cares..


    God bless!


  3. I like this post. It's true that what is legal may not be ethical and what is worse - sometimes we even try to find loopholes in the law to circumvent shady areas and hope to make it legal and salve our conscience that if it is legal then it's also ethical ...?? The following amusing anecdote ( quoted) illustrates - " A foreign building contractor wanted to give a government officer a sports car, in order to help him get a big government job. The official objected saying, 'Sir, common decency , my Christian upbringing , the leadership code and my basic sense of personal honor - all these would never permit me to accept a valuable gift like that. It would amount to bribery and corruption.' The contractor said, ' I quite understand. But suppose we do this : I ll sell you the sports car for ten dollars.'
    The official thought for a moment , then he said , ' In that case , I'll take two.' " Tessa