Ethics and Religion in a Pluralistic Age

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Ethics and Religion in a Pluralistic Age. By Brian Hebblethwaite. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997. 216 pp. $29.95 (paper).

This series of essays is in two parts, the first having to do with Christian ethics as a theological discipline, the second with comparative religious ethics. It is informed throughout by Hebblethwaite's insistence that Christian ethics is inescapably theistic, that this is more a benefit than a liability, and that the moral vision afforded by Christian faith is, in the end, to be preferred to that afforded by competing faiths.

Regarding theism in general, the author's position may be summarized as follows. In an increasingly secular world, claims for the existence of God may expose theistic ethics to the charge of unintelligibility. Yet we should expect such claims to remain intelligible to the atheist who seeks to preserve the possibility of a moral order that transcends mere self-interest, and who continues to be informed and defined by these claims (Essays 1-3). Hebblethwaite seems concerned in part to encourage and defend the inclusion of theistic voices in secular moral debate, since such debate genuinely seeks a good that transcends mere self-interest. The problem of verifiability should therefore not debar theists from participation in such debate, since the logical precondition of the debate is the possibility of objective moral truth, and it is precisely this possibility, which is itself unverifiable, on which theist and atheist participants in the debate alike depend. In short, when it comes to moral discourse, the apparent weakness of religious belief is its strength. Without relying on unverifiable claims any more than the atheist, the theist can (and should) boldly assume the existence of an objective moral order and endeavor not only to discover it, but demonstrate its resonance with human longings, capacities and patterns of religious experience. …