Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Global Ethic at the Grassroots: A Research Proposal Based on the Work of Leonard Swidler

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Global Ethic at the Grassroots: A Research Proposal Based on the Work of Leonard Swidler

Article excerpt

The Age of Global Dialogue has dawned, and with it has emerged a profound new sense of interdependence and interconnectedness. Thanks to advances in technology, we are increasingly aware of each other. We are also increasingly aware of each other's actions, inactions, and the effects that these can have on our nascent global civilization as a whole. As global culture continues on its path toward connectedness, the desperate need for a globally applicable ethical foundation is more and more apparent. As Leonard Swidler noted, "humankind no longer has the luxury of letting such an ethic slowly and haphazardly grow by itself." (1) This fact is attested to by the continual rise in global conflict, the exploitation of natural resources, and reports of human-rights violations in the name of political and economic progress.

In academia, the proposal of a Global Ethic has been discussed, drawn, discussed, endorsed, and then discussed again. However, the conversation has not successfully made the transition from academia to the grassroots level. To speak in ecclesial terms, the conversation has not made it from the ivory towers to the steeples. In a preliminary research foray hoping to discern the level of awareness concerning global-ethic work in American churches, I contacted several national organizations to ask if any conversations about global-ethic development and education were underway. My inquiries were seldom answered. When they were, the responses were only to affirm what I had already guessed. On the local-church level, conversations about the development of a global ethic are not taking place.

As the global-ethic movement advances, scholarly opinion on best practices has differed. What is the best way to move the project forward? At least three distinct models have been proposed to advance the conversation. These have been generated by Hans Kting, Swidler, and Sallie B. King. What follows is a brief overview of these three.

The model employed by Rung consists of the formation of a single document to which supporters would affix their signatures in solidarity. This document, the Declaration toward a Global Ethic, has been translated into more than sixteen languages. (2) Its signatories represent a wide range of both religious and secular organizations. Kung's hope was to unite a vast number of people under the banner of this one encompassing document.

Swidler's approach differs significantly. Instead of gathering people by having them agree to an externally developed ethic, Swidler has proposed as imperative that "various religious and ethical communities, ethnic groups, and geographical religions work on discussing and drafting their own versions of a 'Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic,' that is, what they consider their own basic ethical principles, which they at the same time believe people of all other religious and ethical traditions could also affirm," (3) Swidler's model requires much more engagement from those participating in the creation of a global ethic. Further, it requires participants to engage in deep self-examination, while at the same time educating themselves about the "other." Through this process the self and the other become better understood, and the relationship between them becomes clear. The other becomes humanized, and beliefs once held out of habit are examined and determined to be either valid and worth maintaining or invalid, damaging, and due to be discarded. It is by this process that the global ethic is internalized.

In answer to Swidler's model, King proposed a model based on a Buddhist perspective that promotes selflessness in terms of interconnectedness, accompanied by the commitment to "an ethic of utter harmlessness to all forms of life." (4) However, King professes weariness at seeking a global consensus on an ethics statement "from a starting point within one tradition," specifically, in this case, from Christianity. …

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