In light of a comment by a friend of mine who asks why Christianity would think that it came up with the idea of an ethical and moral framework, and whether or not my previous post implied that we have a monopoly on this stuff, here are some further musings:
Of course people in the secular Western world can hold a commitment to ethical and moral frameworks (Romans 1 shows how this truth is suppressed, whilst Acts 17 shows how it is self-evident), but they cannot, by their very jettisoning of any transcendent ethic over the past decades, now turn around and universalise it. Not with any integrity at any rate. All that is left is opinion.
Having dismantled the Christian framework, at least in its hegemony in the West, and having accepted fully that there can be, in Charles Taylor’s wording, no “naive” understanding that God just is, the culture is finding it harder to put an ethic back together again, without having to return to an “ought” rather than remain with an “is”.
Now by “naive” I do not mean stupid, but simply that the passive acceptance that the culture is undergirded by a revealed ethic – a God-given one – no longer applies in a secular setting, indeed it cannot. Hence the culture has to work harder than ever before to come up with some reason as to why any particular ethical framework is better. All that is left to it is pragmatism. It is better to do things this way, because it works. Which, of course, is like stitching a target to your chest – it virtually invites the arrow of scorn (an arrow I shall refrain from firing).
Now any Christian who observes this new phenomenon of a return to a vaguely Christian ethic will rejoice, and rightly so, because Christians believe such an ethic works. Why does it work? It works because it is given to us by the infinitely wise God who knows better than us, and therefore knows what is better for us. It works because that’s how the creation was put together.
Now, having spent 40 years shaking off this deistic chain, the culture is creeping slowly back, never wanting to admit that the resultant mess has been its own doing. It’s somewhat like the post-Cold War communists who, after trashing their countries for decades, suddenly tried to take the moral high ground to fix it up after their system had been exposed for the mess that it was. In other words, they’d do anything, try anything, as long as they were able to hold the reins of power.
Hence to suddenly re-discover the ethic that Christianity has been espousing all along is fine by me, as far as it goes. But to desire to implement it universally one has to admit that it is a universal ethic, and well, the next step is to say that perhaps it is universal because a universal consciousness exists at the core of the universe, and perhaps that consciousness is its/her/himself ethical, and therefore personal! And the next thing you have to say is “We wuz wrong!” It’s a slippery slope. Before you know it, God is back on the agenda. And that will never do.
I think the step from a universal ethic to universal consciousness is one that takes many different forms in different cultures. My issue is your assumption that it must take a Christian form. You have already acknowledged that ethics predated Christianity, why must Christianity then be the ‘one true path’? Could it not be a facet of a larger (unknowable) truth?
Is this what the people of the ‘secular Western world’ are beginning to realise? That when they threw out the corrupt priests and their faith (wild over-generalisations here), they also threw out a greater truth…
Jesus predates Christianity – or at least the second person of the Trinity – God the Son does – revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s rightful King (or God’s Son as the king of Israel was called). Traditional Christianity affirms the historicity of Jesus, but the eternal design of God to work his salvation through that historical Jesus.
I guess that is where our paths will separate bro. I think that an ethical framework is written into our DNA by the God of the Bible, but our rebellion against him means that we have distorted it and that the Gospel is the solution. So no culture gets it right, but every culture is responsible for their inability to even obey the part they do have. Once again that’s what Romans 1 says
Jesus gets it right – that’s why I view him as the (only) truly ethical person in that he lived that ethic to the core, including giving thanks to the one who empowered him to do so. I think Christianity is the one true path because the founder of Christianity claimed that it was – or rather claimed he was. We have to take him seriously and either reject or accept him on that basis, because he himself leaves little option.
But I certainly see something in your final par. Interesting observation.
very well said Steve.
But ‘ner ner na ner ner’ or, in other words ‘ I told you so’, is not a particularly good or endearing look for a Christian.
I agree, and that’s why I would never make it derision a central plank of my apologetic. I have been in more than a few discussions with those in ministry and training who have noted this same phenomenon and been slightly bemused/frustrated by it. So while I do think there is a point in which the church can say to the culture “You got it wrong”, I don’t think it has to be laced with Schadenfreude.
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