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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

The History of Ethics

We've spent these first couple weeks laying groundwork: Defining big words (deontological, teleological) that I promise to never use in a sermon, and reading summaries of foundational ethical thinkers: Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, Calvin and Luther, etc. All this, Trevor says, is building to a discussion of postmodern ethics from a virtue/narrative perspective. I'm looking forward to that discussion, because I find the definition of that a little slippery, and I'm hoping that my conception will firm up as we get into working in and through it.

Our reading to this point has been sort of a good news/bad news scenario for me. On one hand, I've enjoyed getting the background from An Introduction to Christian Ethics. Once I get past the typos inevitable in an unedited text, Huebner writes in a style that's easy to follow, and does a credible job of laying out the information. I like seeing in these philosophers and theologians the foundations of current Christian thought and practice. I spent a fair amount of time saying, "Oh! So that's where that came from!" Fun.

On the other hand, Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be has been, thus far, a struggle. Not that the text is difficult, but the gloomy nature of the first few chapters leave me feeling like I'm wallowing in clinical depression. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." It seems an exercise in futility, to define "a set of ultimate questions" ("Where are we?" "Who are we?" "What's wrong?" "What's the remedy?") only to state first that (a) there are no definitive answers, and then (b) any answers posited are mournful and hopeless. They only point out a multiplicity of inadequacies and impossibilities. The authors point out a biblical parallel in Mark's story of the man possessed by many demons:

"Rather than valorizing the postmodern worldview, we ought to recognize the tragic character of the answers to the first two questions provided by contemporary culture:
"Where are we? In a pluralistic world of our own construction.
"Who are we? We are Legion."

I'm looking forward to moving on in this text, hoping that there's a light at the end of the postmodern tunnel.


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