I want to explore a moral strategy or analogy I've been working on which I think can help to discern various moral situations. I think this strategy can help us to see where the moral pitfalls are, and it may also be able to explain how morality can be different in two seemingly identical situations. Please be warned that this strategy is a prototype, of sorts. I'm not claiming that I'm right about all this, but I'm hopeful that thinking about morality in this manner may provide us some insight into different moral dilemmas, and illuminate at least one facet of a complex issue. The strategy is based off chemical equations which are simply replaced with moral factors here.
I don't want to dig too deeply into chemical equations, but I think it's helpful to understand the premise before exploring moral equations. In chemistry, we have a variety of ways in which substances can chemically react with each other. In a synthesis reaction, two separate substances are chemically combined to form one substance. (A + B --> AB). In a double replacement reaction, two compounds each trade one of their components with the other. (AB + CD --> AD + CB) In a decomposition reaction, one compound is broken down into two separate substances. (AB --> A + B) While other reactions exist (e.g. single replacement and combustion), I am only focusing on synthesis, decomposition, and double replacement for this article.
Synthesis: A + B --> AB
I'll start simply by exploring a synthesis reaction. Let's look at some moral (or amoral) examples.
Spending Time to tutor Children who need help with school. You bring your time, children bring their need, and you spend time together addressing the need. T + C --> TC. This is a synthesis because you aren't trading any resources. You are donating your time and expertise to the child. The child has the need and receives the assistance. The time/expertise you give is attached to the child.
Tutoring children in need is altruistic, but we can also perform actions which are amoral - lacking a real moral component. We can donate money or time to various organizations which aren't altruistic, but which we value for some reason. But then there are of course the immoral examples. If one decides to donate time or Money, which are (a)moral, to a Cause or organization which is (i)mmoral (e.g. the KKK, ISIS, etc), then the cause defiles the equation, making the act immoral. You are choosing to attach something of yours to an immoral cause. M(a) + C(i) --> MaCi . Immorality is "chemically" bonded in the final product.
Of course this equation is insufficient to cover every action. We can fuse our time and money to all sorts of actions and causes which are amoral, yet do so in a way which is idolatrous or wasteful. Nevertheless, it is a helpful start in understanding how we can use equations as we build up to our ultimate example of meat sacrificed to idols.
Decomposition: AB --> A + B
Decomposition is essentially the opposite of synthesis. In a decomposition reaction, two substances are chemically bonded, but through decomposition, they break apart. To explore this idea with moral decomposition, we can look at situations in which there are two components which ought to be joined together, and which are morally problematic if separated.
Divorce may perhaps be one of the best examples of decomposition. When you take a HusbandWife couple and separate them into separate entities through divorce, immorality is at play. Going deeper into the marital relationship, Christians believe that Sex and Marriage are intended to be joined - with sex only being moral within a marital relationship, and wherever there is a marital relationship, there should not be long-term withholding of sex. The two are fused together and should not be separated. SM(a) --> S(i) + M. While sex is not in and of itself immoral, its detachment from marriage makes it thus. Just as H separated from O2 would fail to be nourishing to humans - and could actually be deadly - sex without marriage is similar.
If one is a hardline Catholic, or any other Christian who views birth control as inappropriate, then they would also view prophylactics as decomposition. So, for instance, if a husband and wife are done having kids and the husband gets a vasectomy, this would be viewed as immoral. That's because the couple to sex - an act of both Pleasure and Procreation, and simply isolated the pleasure component. PlPr(a) --> Pl(i) + Pr(a). Again, pleasure is not in and of itself immoral, but it is intended to be attached to something appropriate.
Any act where two neturals/goods are torn apart, or in which a multifaceted act, like sex, has one good isolated to the exclusion of the other, can be viewed as immoral. Of course many Christians would argue that sex does not necessarily have to have procreation in mind, so this process does involve defining which aspects of an action are essential.
DOUBLE REPLACEMENT: AB + CD --> AC + DB
I saved the most complicated moral problem for the end, and the reason for which I tried coming up with a system of moral chemistry.
In a double replacement reaction, two compounds swap out a component. I envision a good example of this as being the exchanging of goods. When I, a Buyer take my Money to a Seller in order to purchase Goods, I end up with the seller's goods, and the seller ends up with my money.
BM(a) + S(a)G(?) --> BG(?) + SM
Some people argue that since companies like Home Depot support abortion, we are then morally obligated not to buy products from them. While I am not at all opposed to finding better places to give my money, is this really a moral issue? Let's look at the scenario with moral chemistry.
BuyerMoney(a) + Seller(i)Goods(a) ---> BuyerGoods(a) --> Seller(i)Money(a)
When Home Depot sells me a hammer, I pay them for their services - services and goods which are amoral. There's nothing wrong with a hammer. What Home Depot does with that amoral money is then up to them. We all understand this to be true, because when we reverse the scenario, we understand that employers are not immoral for paying their employees, even if they know their employees will use their paychecks for immoral purposes. People are paid for goods and services, and that has nothing to do with our morality unless we know that the goods and services are inherently compromised or immoral.
At the moment, I would argue that when we see meat sacrificed to idols as being morally permissible, it is because it's along similar lines to the Home Depot example. There is nothing inherently wrong with meat - the good/product. The issue rather lies with how the seller chose to use that product while it was theirs. However, when we see meat sacrificed to idols as being problematic is when its purchase was done with a view towards its idolatrous inlay. If I want a product I believe is infused with pagan ceremony, that is different than if someone did a ceremony with a piece of meat and I just end up purchasing a product they're selling.
Perhaps a good, but morbid analogy may be medical information obtained during the Holocaust. After the war, there was a big ethics discussion about whether the Nazi research on captives should be destroyed due to its tainting by injustice and atrocity, or whether the information should be used. The conclusion was that the information could be used despite the unjust manner in which it was obtained. This conclusion was drawn because the information was recognized as good knowledge, which was separate from the process for obtaining it. Now, had Dr. Mengele or other Nazis had sought or knowingly used the suffering and abuse of others as a part of the process of obtaining information, this seems like a very different moral problem.
Again, I don't at all believe that moral chemistry is something which we can or should apply across the board. As I have only just started to flesh this idea out, I'm sure there are tons of problems with the examples I've given. I know that it is also very dangerous to divorce morality from relationship, and formulaic morality can lead to very deep problems. However, as we seek to understand the nuances of similar actions which seem intuitively different, it may be helpful to use this system as a way to parse out those nuances. This is a first attempt to set up something like this, and I recognize my examples may not be the best and may not be accurate. However, I think it's an interesting approach which others can build on.