Solomon the Wise King faced the impossibility of ethics. The story is well known. His response to the dilemma came in rooting out the true mother. When the baby’s mother declared, “Give her the living baby but please don’t have him killed,” Solomon knew the true mother would love the child more than another’s mother.
The two sides of the ethical dilemma show up in our current conversation regarding the issues of safety, terror, and refugees. On the one hand no one wants to ignore those fleeing war torn countries looking for sanctuary. On the other hand the potential risk pushes some to err on the side of keeping them off American shores. Christians face division, often deep, over this issue. These and other ethical questions do not so easily fit an either/or binary.
Hey They Are Not Fictional Characters
Recently I met some folks I had only listened to or interacted with online. Eric Hall, here is my interview with him, teaches philosophy in Helena, Montana. Nathan P. Gilmour teaches in the English Department at Emmanuel College and is the founder of The Christian Humanist Podcast. Jeffrey Carter is a Facebook friend. It is always fun to meet people in real-time, in the flesh, that you have only seen on Skype, listened to via podcast or explored on Facebook.
Eric, Nathan, Carter and myself sat down for breakfast at Catalina and Coffee and continued a conversation Nathan and I had begun on the subject of ethics. It was Eric who noted that he was thinking about writing a book titled, The Impossibility of Ethics. Interesting for a Christian philosophy professor who seems to fit within a Virtue Ethics framework. Doesn’t he know that with God all things are possible?
Our current cultural climate reveals how hard it is for people to understand nuance. When we choose hardened positions it is hard to hear questions as anything other than criticism. The result shows up in building walls to keep other people and their opinions out.
We Need More Conversations
Our goal over breakfast was to think out loud about how we might offer another option in a Country divided. We approached the subject as a pastor, philosophy professor, literature professor and lay person. We looked to learn from each other. We did not come to a conclusion. Maybe we ran out of time. More likely the subject requires ongoing conversation lest we ourselves decide to wall off all others who share differing opinions.
Is it really that ethics is impossible? No, but ethics is not easy. Christians live in the tension between at least temporal human responsibilities and eschatological hope and vision. Skirting this tension, and there are likely others, results in either an overly temporal emphasis or an over-realized future vision. Both run the risk of slighting the other, our neighbors.
Give the episode a listen. What do you think of Eric’s framing of the condition of ethics as a potentially human impossibility?
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