Christian Ethics

jesus ethicsIntroduction:

 Is morality simply a matter of prejudice or can we give good reason for our moral beliefs? The area of philosophy which deals with such question  is usually known either as ethics or as moral philosophy — both terms will be used interchangeably here. Christian Ethics belongs to duty-based ethical theories. Duty-based ethical theories stress that each of us has certain duties — actions that we ought or ought not to perform — and that acting morally amounts to doing our duty, whatever consequences might follow from this. It is this idea, that some actions are absolutely right or wrong regardless of results which follow from them, which distinguishes duty-based (also known as deontological) ethical theories from consequentialist ethical theories. Here we will examine Christian ethics.

1. Christian ethics

Christian moral teaching has dominated Western understanding of morality: our whole conception of what morality is has been shaped by religious doctrine, and even atheistic ethical theories are heavily indebted to it. The Ten Commandments list various duties and forbidden activities. These duties apply regardless of the consequences of carrying them out : they are absolute duties. Someone who believes that the Bible is the word of God will have no doubt about the meaning of “right”and “wrong”: “right” means what God wills.and “wrong”means anything which is against God’s will. For such a believer morality is a matter of following absolute commands given by the external authority, God. So, for instance, killing is always morally wrong because it is explicitly listed as a sin in the Ten commandments. This is so even when killing a particular individual — Hitler for instance — might save other people’s lives. This is a simplification: in fact theologians do argue about exceptional circumstances when killing might be morally permissible, as for instance in a just war.

In practice Christian morality is far more complicated than just obeying the Ten Commandments: it involves the application of Christ’s teaching, and in particular of the New Testament Commandment “Love the neighbour”. The essence of this morality, however, is a system of dos and don’ts. The same is true of most more moralities based on a religion.

Many people have thought that if God doesn’t exist there can be no such thing as morality. Nevretheless there are at least three major objections to any ethical theory based on solely upon God’s will.

1.1. Criticisms on Christian ethics
1.1.1. What is God’s will?:

One  immediate difficulty with Christian ethics is finding out What God’s will actually is. How can we know for sure what God wants us to do? Christians usually answer this question by saying, “Look at the Bible.”But the Bible is open to numerous, and often conflicting, interpretations: think only of the differences between those who take the book of Genesis literally, believing that the world was created in seven days, and those who think that this is a metaphor, or of the differences between those who think that killing in war is sometimes acceptable and those who believe that the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill”is absolute and unconditional.

1.1.2. The Euthyphro Dilemma:

A dilemma arises when there are only two possible alternatives and neither is desirable. In this case the dilemma is one that was originally presented in Plato’s Euthyphro. The dilemma for someone who believes that morality is derived from God commands is as follows. Does command or love what he or she does because it is morally Good? Or does God’s commanding or loving it make it morally good?

Consider the first option. If God commands or loves what he or she does because bit is morally good then this makes morality in some sense independent of God. He or she is responding to pre-existing moral values that occur in the universe: discovering rather than creating them. On this view it would be possible to describe morality completely without any mention of God, Though it might be thought that God provides us with more reliable information about morality than we would otherwise  be able to glean from the world with our limited intellects. Nevertheless, on this view, God is not the source of morality.

The second option is probably less attractive to defenders of Christian ethics. If God creates right and wrong simply by his or her commands or approval then this seems to make morality somewhat arbitrary. In principle God could have declared murder to be morally praiseworthy and it would have been. A defender of morality as a system of God’s commands might answer that God would never make murder morally praiseworthy because God is good and would not wish that upon us. But if by “good” is meant “morally good” this has the consequence that all that  “God is good” can mean is “God approves of him- or herself”. This is hardly what believers mean when they say “God is good”.

1.1.3. It assumes God’s existence:

However, a far more serious objection to such a view of ethics is that presupposes that God actually exists and is benevolent. If God weren’t benevolent, why would acts in accordance with his or her will be considered morally morally good? We should argue, neither God’s existence nor benevolence can be taken for granted.

Not all duty-based moral theories rely on God’s existence. The most important duty-based moral theory, that of Immanuel Kant, despite the fact that Kant himself was a devout Christian, describes morality in a way which, in its broadest outlines, many atheist have found appealing.mosaic2

Source: Philosophy: The Basics, by: Nigel Warburton

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