Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Public Ethical Discourses and the Diversity of Cultures, Religions, and Subjectivity in History: Can We Agree on Anything?

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Public Ethical Discourses and the Diversity of Cultures, Religions, and Subjectivity in History: Can We Agree on Anything?

Article excerpt

Abstract: Ethics deals with how we make decisions and the actions we perform. In decisionmaking, one weighs the pros and the cons of any course of action. Besides the realm of the private, there are ethical issues regularly dealt with in public discourses. Human identity in most instances is a cultural and religious construct. Our socio-historical background as human beings is constitutive of our identity and also informs our ethical decision making. In this essay, I argue for a possibility of positively incorporating ideas from world religions and diverse cultures into public ethical discourses. Since world religions are about people, it is possible to appropriate humanity as understood in religions in the development of ethics. Hence, I present religions as practically relevant in the analysis of public ethical issues. Public ethical discourses are viewed as inclusive of history, religion, and culture. Further, the work of the philosopher Paul Ricoeur is presented as a way of reconciling subjectivity and objectivity in history and ethics. This essay is an analysis on ways in which the debate on ethical issues can incorporate all the voices in a society without excluding anyone while avoiding ideological extremism.

Key Words: Ethics, public discourse, society, religion, culture, subjectivity, objectivity, history, Ricoeur

In many societies today, there are public debates over issues which have an ethical dimension. For example, many cable television shows present hosts and guests who are ideologically bent on either to the leftor the right of the political spectrum. Such television shows present the participants with an avenue where they advocate their ways as the only way for their society and its political/economic life, and all this is done without referencing (through footnotes or other means) the sources that inform their perspectives.1 Few people in the public forum openly refer to their religious or cultural background as informing their worldview. Unfortunately, some people, in the name of their religion, also espouse some rather extreme ideas which they propagate as the viewpoint they want their society to uphold. Some of these extreme ideas, whether religious or secular, can lead to violence. Violence is generally first justified in the mind of the violent person through intellectual arguments before it is physically implemented. This is usually true of all intolerant and sectarian rhetoric which sometimes leads to psychological and physical destruction of the other as a human subject. Hate speech is sometimes a precursor of violent action against another perceived as the enemy or just different. All these apply to how society deals with differences in ideology, religion, sexual orientation, race, dietary concerns, among others. Secularists and also members of many religions contribute to the ethical debates in their respective societies. An open public reference to religions and cultures makes it possible for a diverse and honest participation in public ethical discourses. Public ethical discourses are supposedly inclusive since they are deliberative processes which deal with issues in particular societies. In this essay, I analyze ways in which the debate on ethical issues can incorporate all the voices in society without excluding anyone while avoiding extremism. Sectarianism in ethical debates in society has to be avoided. It is, therefore, necessary to recover the human dimension in all religious, social, and political life of a society.

Understanding human beings as sharing similar needs makes it possible for people to work together for the good of all in a society. An example is the recent debate and legislation on healthcare reforms in the United States of America which brought together the secular leftand some religious denominations concerned with the plight of the less economically privileged members of society. Hence, it is fitting to argue for the possibility of debate by people of different ideological backgrounds especially on matters of public policy. …

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