I have always been fascinated with Christian ethics.
Well, not always. I mean, when I was not a Christian I really didn’t care, and later on when I had become one I didn’t realize that I already had an affinity for the discipline.
What I mean by that is as follows: Christian ethics is where it all comes together.
While talking to one of my professors I realized this anew. Dr. Jeph Holloway, professor of Christian Ethics at ETBU, was discussing my academic journey and I was letting him know that I was conflicted about what exactly I wanted to pursue my doctoral studies in. I have always admired the depth and breadth of Jeph’s knowledge. His concerns are near limitless with knowledge ranging from sociological studies on ANE and Ancient Mediterranean culture, to a fluency in Koine and Ancient Hebrew, on into wide ranging concerns with most branches of philosophy and ethics. Because of this his recent book on theodicy and Christian ethics is pretty top notch and takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of those disciplines that intersect with ethical concerns.
Anyway, he mentioned to me that he settled on Christian ethics because of how panoptic the discipline is. But, beyond that all of the concerns of Christianity come down to the theological/ethical, the notion of how one is engaged in believing/doing. The practical is of extreme importance.
But, by “practical” I do not mean “devotional.” Not in the least. Usually devotional studies tend to rest on individual concerns or spread a sort of decisionistic disease. It borders on the ethical, but by ethical a different understanding is iterated, one that I think is harmful and deficient, sub-Christian. Too bad it makes up the majority of popular Christian writing. Devotions usually are all about “self” and how the individual is to reframe his/her own singular life. When ethical questions come up the foundation is the decision and life is reframed in a decidedly economic manner. We are those disconnected minds who assert and come to conclusions wholly consciously and do so for every decision we make; the infinite res cogitans within a finitude of decision. One can see this strange Christian ethic in, say, Scott Rae’s popular ethics books that are common in evangelical institutions. The idea of virtue, or walking along a certain path, are just denied existence. As is the reality of manipulation through popular means of media and how this shapes the individual.
This type of literature tries to engage the practical, and parades in a facade of practicality and doing justice to the scriptures, but it falls short, I believe (which I will leave for a future discussion).
But, even with these particular types of ethical responses that I find to be deficient I see a desire to engage all relevant materials.
. One has to care about the scriptures, has to know what they believe about hermeneutics, about ancient and modern history. One also has to understand philosophy, must know why they are not a Kantian or a Cartesian or a reductionist. One has to engage different theories on the nature of morality and ethics, and follow through with logical consistency. And so there is an amount of difficulty. When I have written on ethical theory and economics I must take into account Paul’s collection effort, which necessitates that I understand sociological studies, literary criticism, exegetical and hermeneutical concerns, but also I have to reply to and understand neoclassical economic theories, market manipulation, contemporary advertising sociology, and of course various philosophical analyses on contemporary modernistic and postmodernistic capitalist culture. It can become a sort of endless spiral of tails to chase.
But, most important is the Christian factor. It calls for one to interpret situations based on tradition and scripture. It necessitates that the interpreter pays attention to nuance from a Christian perspective. And this can be difficult because the further question is asked, “What Christian perspective?” And the answer is not cut-and-dry or simple. But, suffice it to say, it must be a perspective that holds the reality of theology/ethics, that realizes that moral discernment concerns the “who” moreso than the “what” or “why” (another tidbit gleaned from Jeph), that the Christian is engaged in a community of believers who are called to make things right by engaging in the tasks of the Kingdom, and that Christ is the Lord of Peace, not of envy, strife, anger, hatred, or violence. Many more niceties could be added, but the whole of Christian ethics calls for the Christian to realize that they are a “who” that is called to differentiate from the world and yet love the world, to engage in tension through being within the tensions created daily, to effect change through peace.
This is very different from an ethics of autonomy, of individualism, because it assumes that the “who” is engaged within a community and is more than an “I”, a ghost in the machine of the body who is disconnected from the material world, nor is the autonomous self a wholly material entity reduced to chemical determination.
How do you look at ethics? Do you realize the interconnectedness of the ethical, or do you think we are just autonomous beings who create our lives completely (in otherwords, beings who are realized through the Now)?