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My Ethics of Ethics

ethics sxc hu smallIt is a complex world with complex problems.

The desire for sure answers and ethical certainty in my own religious community has not, however, historically, driven them to examine issues, nor to contemplate the methods and principles by which one might do so.

It has, rather, driven them to construct an artificial world, all of whose problems are easily answered from a superficial knowledge of the English Bible.  They are not, to any meaningful degree, multi-cultural, nor supra-cultural in their thinking, nor are they even aware of the implications of such a statement.  What they label “Christian Ethics” looks more like a 1950’s snippet of white, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class social mores. (Think Leave it to Beaver without that pesky Eddie Haskell.) They open Bible colleges to train their ministers, yet spend their energies teaching them what to think rather than how to think, and safeguard their particular world-perspective by anathematizing those dissatisfied with denominational indoctrination.  They have trimmed their world down to manageable size and shape and recast all things into clearly delineated rights and wrongs. They tenaciously defend their ignorance of real facts as spiritual superiority and clear-sightedness.

This is my ethical heritage.  It is not evil, nor, I believe, largely incorrect in its general assessments, but it does not deal effectively with the real issues of a multi-cultural and highly technical world filled with mind boggling ethical tensions.

The procedure for Christian ethics is, I believe, the crux of the issue, and any thorough study must begin here.  This entails a detailing of presuppositions, and of an agreed upon set of hermeneutical principles, which must be followed with an earnest pursuit of biblical truth, whatever the consequences may be.  It also involves an honest and comprehensive appraisal of each ethical system, and the issues they invoke.

It is important to lay out one’s presuppositions in a dialogue on ethics.  Should two believers think differently on issues such as the inspiration of the Scriptures, biblical inerrancy, sufficiency and authority, or even the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, they will naturally respond differently to the use of Scripture in the establishment of a Christian ethic.  This is no less true than if two people who disagreed on the existence of God discussed ethics.

Hermeneutics also plays a significant role in the establishment of a Christian ethic.  To deny the value of an historical-grammatical hermeneutic in favor of a number of possible mystical hermeneutics, significantly effects the possible outcomes of one’s study – so also, if one sides one way or another on many of the issues involved in cultural relativity and the Bible.  Of course, hermeneutics and exegesis is an art as well as a science, and one’s personal skill will effect his interpretation, but an agreement on principles allows for fruitful dialogue.

It should not seem necessary to discuss the need for an earnest pursuit of biblical truth in Christian ethics, but to neglect to do so would be naive.  It is one of the most difficult things for a person that is accustomed to indoctrinated thinking (whether from the church or Media), or private emotionalized thinking to open his or her mind to broader possibilities.  One needs to have the paradigms of his or her mind challenged, and the temptation to biased investigation exposed by actually discussing the need.  This is not only important for those who are part of my own religious community, but also for many modern Christians who fancy that any given expectation of their generation is an improvement on the old fashioned ideology of the past four decades.  The same could be said for any others who have never been exposed to the distinction between truth and culture.

Finally, it should be expected that the establishment of Christian ethics would involve a thorough investigation of other ethical systems, past and present, with a comprehensive consideration of the perspectives these systems offer, and the unique issues they include.  This also would seem to go without saying, but many have little interest in understanding those around them.  They prefer to rap out rote lessons, or to overwhelm their listeners with any number of manipulative techniques.

An effective ethicist is not simply one who feels comfortable in his own choices, but becomes a guide for others, effectively explaining both his ideas, and the logical process behind them.  He has the capacity to understand Scripture in its own setting, and to properly translate this into the various settings of his hearers.  This type of communication requires mastery of the “languages” of all involved.

To fail here is to banish the Church and its message into irrelevance in the mind of this generation, even among Christians.  The common man wants real answers, from real people, people who are in the real world, and are able to engage it for what it is.  Here, then, is my heritage, my expectation, and my goal in the study of Christian ethics.

2 thoughts on “My Ethics of Ethics

  1. John Gilkenson says:

    Well written. On surface level so many can easily agree with this but if we are honest many of us really like the simplicity of having a narrative comfortable to our sensibilities and reinforcing it over and over.

  2. Thanks. Pass it on if you like it. I sure could use the boost. I will do little pieces on ethics for the next few Fridays.

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