Dirty Hands: Christian Ethics in a Morally Ambiguous World

Dirty Hands: Christian Ethics in a Morally Ambiguous World

Dirty Hands: Christian Ethics in a Morally Ambiguous World

Dirty Hands: Christian Ethics in a Morally Ambiguous World

Synopsis

How can one make the ethical and "right" decision in a deeply ambiguous moral world? Baker-Fletcher's basic introduction to Christian Ethics-with attitude-examines the fundamental ethical problems of moral decision-making, in which knowledge will always be unsure, time short, decisions ambiguous, and consequences multiple and unforseeable. Baker-Fletcher treats ethics as engagement, getting one's hand's "dirty with life." He employs a journey motif in order to aid readers in plotting their own "moralscape" (the fundamental commitments that affect their own decisions.

Excerpt

My approach to teaching Christian ethics has surprised many of the students in my introductory ethics courses, especially those raised in traditional churches. For most traditional Christians there is only one approach to ethics, the so-called Bible way. I resist assuming that there is only one way to make the right choices, even in the Bible itself. I do not tell students what is right, what is wrong, or even what is the “Christian” way. Rather I try to outline an “approach” to the study of Christian ethics, or so it has seemed to many students. I talk about terms and methodologies rather than about dogmas of faith and the spiritual truth that many students expect from me as an expert in ethical analysis. Obviously, I am not the stereotypical “fundamentalist,” but neither do I seem to be an “apostate.” So the questions and accusations soon begin to fly. More traditional students interrogate me about my “commitment” to Christ, my “relationship with our Lord,” and so forth. In so doing, they demonstrate what they consider to be genuine Christian concern for the state of my soul, my spiritual welfare. As I share my personal faith experiences, their fears for the condition of my soul are alleviated, but their expectations are not satisfied. While many claim that they “like” the new ethics professor, some remain confused about why I do not simply tell them how to be ethical.

What am I trying to do in these introductory courses on ethics? Am I playing fast and loose with the familiar verities, dogmas, and assumptions that are firmly anchored in some two thousand years of Christian religious thought? Why make such an effort to consider all sides of an ethical dilemma? What is Christian ethics for?

In our time, concerted forms of moral argumentation are often replaced by political sloganeering. Fewer people attempt to convince through persuasive forms of communication. In contrast, my approach to ethics tries to resurrect the old-fashioned ideal of communication known as “civility.” There surely ought to be a way for committed Christians to communicate with each other and with persons of other beliefs without rancor. The field known as Christian ethics ought to begin reaching out with a renewed sense of public responsibility. Christian proclamation of the gospel will not be effective if its primary method is . . .

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