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Main | Ethics in Star Trek's Delta Quadrant »
Friday
Feb032012

Living in Ethics

Preface: Soil, Planet Earth and Being Good

I like the image of soil when thinking about morality and ethics. Soil is necessary for nurture, growth, and life itself, but if we insist on planting in it, or indeed playing in it, we will inevitable become dirty. It is the same for ethics; while necessary for nurturing a good life, living morally and resolving ethical dilemmas is almost always messy work. We can never get out of it completely clean, and it is an illusion to think we can. There is no universal principle, or theoretical abstraction, or even methodological nicety that will keep us completely free from life's conflicts and contradictions. There is no where to go to escape ethics. No one can spare us its difficulties. If we want to participate in life, we cannot really avoid getting our hands dirty. But while we cannot avoid the effects of soil, we can act and be in ways that will both create and maintain integrity.

The image of soil also keeps us grounded on planet earth when considering how we can best live a moral life. It has never been my desire to understand how ethics is played out in Never-Never-Land. I will leave that to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. I am, however, very interested in how to live well every day, which is to say, in the very soil of my existence.

While I insist that ethics must be practical, I am not against theoretical ruminations. I am, however, against such ruminations floating off into space, disassociated from our real life problems. It is interesting to say, for example, that a human being should be good because God is good and God's creation is good. But how does such a theological notion of goodness help us when we are knee deep in a decision between two possible actions both of which will cause harm? What does it mean to be good in such a situation?

Theory should be and always remain grounded in the soil of our experience. If it is not, then it becomes a distraction, or worse, a means of avoiding the realities of our living. Each chapter presents a dual track of theoretical considerations and methodological applications. Hopefully in the reading of and participation in the chapters these parallel tracks will continually become intertwined, informing and enhancing each other and, thus, offering a integrated approach to doing ethics.  

Narrative and Liberation are of paramount importance to my understanding of ethics. As a result, I do not only examine the importance of Narrative in ethics and theology, but also use particular narratives to ground theory. I turn to film, drama, and novels to help us deepen our understanding of philosophical and theological abstractions. It is in and through fictious and historic narratives that we explore our deepest human desires and make meaning of our often times confusing, if not turbulent, experiences. Also, through the use of narratives I single that individual and community experience are an important authority in our lives. When experience is in conflict with principle, the former cannot simply be ignored. In other words, experience should not be subordinated to principle. My commitment to Liberation as the ultimate telos of ethics singals that I am interested in a praxis approach to doing theology and ethics, and that what we do has ultimate moral value. Ethics is not simply an academic exercise, but an intellectual and experiential process that enhances or undermines the lives of individuals and communities.

It is important that we can see our way through emotive, confusing, and difficult situations, and through it all pursue lives of integrity. If at the end of this week you are able to better do that, but not quote a particular school of thought with confidence, I would be satisfied. It seems important to me that we first understand the language, history, and concepts of ethics before we can speak meaningfully of Christian ethics, biblical ethics, and how theological concepts apply to ethics. I begin therefore with practical necessities.

We begin with a popular narrative of a fictitious ethical dilemma, which addresses many of the ethical issues we will explore in later chapters. I use an episode from Star Trek: Voyager  to introduce the basic language and concepts of ethics in Ethics in Star Trek's Delta Quadrant, what I hope, is a more enjoyable and engaging way. Next The Language of Ethics presents more detailed definitions of ethical language and concepts. While not the most exciting of chapters, I would suggest you use the chapter as a reference point as you continue your reading.

A Method of Doing Ethics introduces a method for doing ethics. It is not the only way to do ethics, but one I have found useful and effective. It is a praxis approach to ethics reflecting on concrete ethical dilemmas. The method offers a practical five step process which includes a narrative of the situation, narrative analysis of the situation, identification of the dilemma, analysis of the dilemma, and the resolution of the dilemma. The practical methodology is placed within a theoretical framework which explores the situation in light of narrative interpretation, revelation, appropriation, and liberation.

I have chosen to speak about Narrative, Revelation, Appropriation, and Liberation in not because they are the only categories worthy of consideration, but because in my experience they have been important in peoples' struggle to be good, and because the proved to be very useful in the teaching of ethics. Within these broad categories we will talk about how we interpret experience, goodness, responsibility, freedom, justice, and liberation. Again there are other issues one could address in a course on ethics.

Narrative and Ethics explores the nature of narrative in general and its place in doing ethics in particular. Revelation and Ethics introduces the theological notions of goodness and human value and how these ideas affect moral decision making and action. Appropriation and Ethics  looks at the appropriation of ethics and in particular the notions of responsibility and freedom. Liberation and Ethics examines the requirements of liberation and ethics, speaking particularly to ideas of postmodernity and liberation theologies. Finally, in Living With Ethics I bring to resolution the ethical dilemmas we have been studying throughout the week.

Copyright © 2000 Dale Rominger

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