Altruism and Christian Ethics

Altruism and Christian Ethics

Altruism and Christian Ethics

Altruism and Christian Ethics

Synopsis

Separated from its anchorage in religion, ethics has followed the social sciences in seeing human beings as fundamentally characterized by self-interest, so that altruism is either naively idealistic or arrogantly self-sufficient. Colin Grant contends that, as a modern secular concept, altruism is a parody on the self-giving love of Christianity, so that its dismissal represents a social leveling that loses the depths that theology makes intelligible and religion makes possible. He argues that to dispense with altruism is to dispense with God and with the divine transformation of human possibilities.

Excerpt

This book is the eighteenth in the series New Studies in Christian Ethics. It shares with an adjacent series title, Stephen Clark's Biology and Christian Ethics, a critique of writers such as Richard Dawkins and E. O. Wilson. It also works closely with the central thesis of an earlier book in the series, Garth Hallett's Priorities and Christian Ethics, namely that a radical concern for others should be a key feature of morality and that it is Christian, not secular, ethics which is best able to defend this concern. Colin Grant's new book is essentially a book examining modern critics of altruism, which uses historical resources only when relevant. It does not intend to examine in detail the historical sources that may lie behind the essentially modern concept of altruism.

Altruism and Christian Ethics is a scholarly and well-written book which offers an extended analysis of the secular literature on a single concept, followed by an examination of how a specifically theological understanding can make an additional contribution. As result, it reflects well the two key aims of the series — first, to promote monographs in Christian ethics which engage centrally with the present secular moral debate at the highest possible intellectual level and, secondly, to encourage contributors to demonstrate that Christian ethics can make a distinctive contribution to this debate.

What emerges at the end of this study is that altruism is a vital but paradoxical moral concept. Christian ethicists would scarcely be wise to endorse all forms of altruism in secular society. Kamikaze pilots in World War II, or suicide bombers in modern Israel, may well act altruistically, yet Christian ethicists . . .

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