This year has been an interesting year for my personal convictions. Over winter break I read the amazingly helpful book Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson. It goes through seven major and “mundane” parts of our lives and shows how there are major global inequities, amoralities, and injustices being perpetrated behind the scenes of all these spheres of living. She explains, with both nuance and care, these issues and then offers super-practical, nitty-gritty suggestions for living life more justly in light of these things.
My New Year’s Resolution was to take one of her seven issues each month and try to incorporate a more just way of living into that. The issues (in chapter order): Coffee, Chocolate, Cars/Oil consumption, Food, Clothing, Waste/Pollution, Global Debt.
January for me was officially Just Coffee Month. Other than an Irish coffee I picked up at an Irish pub (which I couldn’t confirm its trade method), I have not spent one cent on coffee that has not been ethically traded and certified as such. Special thanks to my friends at Elixr Coffee (on Yelp), the new best coffee-shop in Philly, for offering amazing Direct Trade coffee choices (which is far more ethical than “Fair” Trade Coffee). Continue reading
Yesterday I wrote about how Catholicism views the idea of torture and how a possible response to it and it’s socio-political effects can be found in the Eucharist. That article was written because the idea of Torture has come front and center in the political discourse once more. For those not keeping track of the current political climate concerning the previous administration, John Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley that was given the charge by the Bush administration and the CIA to define the nature and limits of “enhanced interrogation techniques“. He along with Jay Bybee authored the famous “torture memos” which gave legal justification for the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other techniques in order to get information from suspected terrorists.
Last year, the Office of Professional Responsibility wrote a report finding the two men guilty of professional misconduct and recommended the Justice Department do a full investigation. Ealier this month, both Bybee and Yoo were officially cleared of all wrongdoing in the eyes of the Department of Justice. Further, the DOJ strongly suggested that no further investigation nor disciplinary action from the bar should be sought. Last week the Department officially closed its investigation. Yesterday, the top ethicist of the Department of Justice said that not only did Yoo and Bybee do nothing criminal, but neither did they even act unethically. (Full summary of the metanarrative of all of this can be found here.)
I know, I know — this seems like a weird topic to inaugurate this series. Today, in my ongoing series “Catholics Aren’t Crazy” I wanted to put up a post on a Catholic view of Scripture, inspiration, and inerrancy. They have some amazing things to say on these topics that Evangelicals could do really well to embrace. But alas, current events have changed that plan. Tomorrow I’m posting up a potentially controversial article here on a Christian view of Torture. I’m writing it in light of the recent developments, publications, and interviews concerning the legal and ethical exoneration of the “Torture Memo” authors, John Yoo and Jay Bybee. In my research I stumbled upon the following wonderful article by Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic, posted on his blog on Ash Wednesday:
“May the Judgment Not Be Too Heavy Upon Us” — The Daily Dish
The article concerns Marc Thiessen, former speech writer for President Bush. Thiessen is on a tour of every news outlet it seems (I’ve seen him on like four different ones just this past week) to promote his brand new book, Courting Disaster, the point of which is pretty much as follows: Our “enhanced interrogation” techniques were moral, effective, and NOT torture; and President Obama has ended them, thereby “inviting the next attack” and putting everyone in America at risk of being slaughtered by Islamic extremists.
By the time I finished the next article in the series, it was substantive enough and socially-oriented enough to warrant being posted on my webzine Reform & Revive. The previous post was on on how secular Philosophy can inform our view of ethics and contribute to the discussion of Slavery, Atheism, and the Bible. This one is about how Christian theological ethics can uniquely inform our ethics in modern times. The article covers a LOT of ground and is the longest one I’ve written yet in this series. Hopefully that’s not a turn off. This article has more of my thought concerning truth and Biblical interpretation than perhaps any one article I’ve ever written contains. Here’s the link:
It seems in light of my earlier post I’ve decided to pour more of myself into this series, rather than just quickly finishing it off. Hopefully it’s helpful.
Lastly, I keep getting private emails, texts, and messages from Christians talking about how much they’re enjoying this series, and how helpful it is to them, but hardly any Christians are publicly commenting. I’m getting tons of comments from my atheist friends, though. Discrepancy? I think so. If you have a thought, please leave it. It could be really helpful to get more input on this and diversity of thought on this.
Thank you all for your support and encouragement. It means a lot.
As I’ve looked at and read the various articulations about this issue put forward by my atheist friends, I’ve noticed a few philosophical assumptions about ethics that are driving many people’s perspective on how the Bible does/should talk about these things. In this post, I’d like to highlight those things and show how they are neither philosophically or theologically correct. By the time I finished writing, it was really long, so, using one of the few benefits of blogging as a medium of discourse, I will put up the second part (concerning the more theological side of this) tomorrow or the next day.
The Philosophy of Ethics
Principles vs. Applications
Even the most cursory look shows that the study of ethics is the study of transcendent principles that govern our morality and behavior. There is an important distinction though made between those transcendent principles and their applications. One can hold to the exact same set of principles, but apply them differently at different times/cultures. It is simplistic and reductionistic to think that anyone’s “ethics” will be applied in the exact same way every time. No ethicist secular or otherwise treats ethics in this fashion. I believe that Scripture is consistent throughout in its transcendent principles, though not in their comprehensive applications (below). To navigate applications takes another pair of things the Bible talks at length about: faith and wisdom (more in the next post). Further, I don’t think this principle/application distinction provides any serious ethical challenge to biblical authority. The Bible itself never claims to treat ethics in this reductionistic manner, so to force it upon Scripture is dishonest.
One of my atheist friends mentioned the converts in isolated African tribes where nudity is prevalent, saying that if Christians were consistent, they must insist that they all cover up in order to be Church members in good standing. Except there’s a problem with that: there is no Christian ethic of “non-nudity”. There is a Christian ethic of “modesty” that says that we have the responsibility to adorn God’s beautiful creation of the human body in such a way that it maintains the respect and dignity it deserves. Now, how respect and dignity is shown changes culture to culture, so it takes wisdom to see where the human form is being abused in that culture — and that is not a compromise of Christian ethics. The consistent biblical principle has still been preached, upheld, and lived. If ethics (secular or Christian) were as naively structured as is necessary for some of these atheist criticisms to make sense, then the entire field of ethics would be unnecessary and non existent, because we could have a computer program that could make all the black-and-white moral decisions for us.
this is real (I did it myself)
The next post is pretty much done, but I wanted to send out this quick note before moving on. The previous post revealed a lot of things that I neglected to make clear. My fault. Sorry.
First and foremost, the last post was not meant to settle the question on slavery and the Bible. I just wanted to get out what the Bible actually says about it. The most I wanted to accomplish toward addressing the issue was to let people see a clear trajectory within Scripture wherein no part is inherently contradictory to the parts before or after it, no more than a seed is contradictory in nature or form to a fully blossomed flower. I also wanted to give a sense of the complexity of the issue. In every passage that lies out even the most comprehensive sets of morality and ethics for the Israelite people, you never see slavery there. It was never an action that was consistently seen as something moral. It’s not a freedom that the Israelites are free to use whenever they desire; it’s used sporadically, meaning that there must be something else going on beyond some explicit commentary by God on the moral nature of slavery. The New Testament is clear that the crucifixion of Christ was something that was foreordained and ultimately brought about by God, but this neither expunges the moral responsibility of the people that actually did it, nor says that God is all about crucifixion and thinks it is “morally neutral” or “ethically okay”. He clearly thinks it is wrong and evil, and yet He clearly ordained it, allowed it, and used it to bring about his promised redemption to the world.
[First off, this is a long one, and only part 1 of 6, so beware before you start reading.]
On Facebook, there appeared a status by an old atheist friend of mine from undergrad named Larry (supported by another friend Christopher). Here was the thesis of the post:
Regarding moral relativism the christians are hypocritical. They say they believe in a moral objectivity given by god…but how is it then, that they believed slavery was a product of the old days, as it was applicable to the time it was practiced (and sanctioned by the bible) but now condemn it? The bible, last I checked did not change. I think this is a PRIMARY example of moral relativism exhibited by the church and christians. So how can they sit here and tell us that a proof for god is moral objectivity?
In other words, how could the ethics of Christians change over time if the book they supposedly base their ethics upon has not changed? Either the God that inspired the Bible was completely incompetent in his revelation or there was no God revealing anything at all. The note caused a discussion that resulted in almost 90 comments, and I quickly realized that if I were going to respond, it would need to be in a more lengthy manner than a Facebook comment (which is not the most helpful of mediums of debate). So here it is. I’d like to respond to the ideas that came out in the discussions. I want to disagree with them on the basis of five ideas: