Christianity and Paradox: Critical Studies in Twentieth- Century Theology

By Ronald W. Hepburn | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
SECULAR ETHICS AND MORAL SERIOUSNESS

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'D o we need God as the ultimate explanation of moral experience?' We have recently seen a striking revival of interest in the relation of morals and religion, both from the practical educationalist point of view and from that of the theologian, who claims that here is one department of life in which the concept of God has undoubtedly a crucial explanatory role to play. But practice and theory cannot be kept apart in this topic. The theologian claims not only theoretical difficulties in accounting for morality without God, but he often holds that without religious belief moral seriousness is impossible; all the solemnity and authority of the moral law, even the moral dignity of humanity itself -- all these go as soon as God is denied to be the author of that law. And without the expectation of eternal life morality is frustrated and mocked, loses all purchase over us. It is not simply that the sceptic finds himself bereft of the prestige that God brought to a way of life already and independently known to be morally good, nor that divine sponsorship made the good life (psychologically) easier to achieve. It is a matter of logic and 'theory of knowledge' -- of what moral judgements are. Paul Ramsey states on the first page of his Basic Christian Ethics that 'God has something to do with the very meaning of obligation'.1

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1
Paul Ramsey, Basic Christian Ethics ( London: S.C.M., 1953), p. 1; my italics.

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