Christian Ethics

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Christian Ethics

정홍기 0 2,380 2007.10.13 22:22
What is ethics?

The term “ethics” comes from the Greek word “ethos”, which means “custom, habitual conduct, usages and, later, character.” (Melden 1955: 1) Ethics is also “the science of morals, treatise on this, moral principles or rules.” (Frost 2000:1) A Christian perspective of ethics is viewed, as “the study of how human ought to live as informed by the Bible and Christian convictions.” (Grenze 1997: 23)

The term “moral” is derived from the Latin “mores”, which signifies “customs” or “habits” (Melden), or “the distinction between right and wrong” (Frost), and “custom” or “usage.” (Grenz)

The theoretical interest is concerned with knowing; the practical interest is concerned with doing.

Aristotle commented that good judgment in ethical theory is possible only for those who by virtue of their training and resulting character know, to begin with, what is good and what is bad. What is right for one community is wrong for another; Time and place seem to make all the difference between right and wrong.

For Socrates “God’s will is good”, therefore if we knew what God’s will is we could know what things are indeed right and wrong. For both Plato and Aristotle, man is a political or social being and the Good, to which all moral justification must appeal in the last analysis, is something that can be realized only in man’s social or political relations.

For Plato the supreme Good is achieved with the realization of the state of justice in the individual soul, and, as Aristotle explicitly adds, with its actual exercise of functioning.

The modern journalism and preaching, both, is deeply involved with human society, which require an adherence of the rules, and people who want to be protected from an invasion of an individual’s privacy. Both have moral dilemma. One is how to bring the right of the public to know through providing information, and the other is how to make known God to them.

The television news is less effective in UK while the newspaper is in Korea. The preaching, mainly in the West also is less attractive to people. The reason is either they are not interested to information or not trust the channel, and may be their interest is more to entertainment. Same in preaching, people may not interest anymore to God or they are too immoral to come to Him, maybe preaching is not attractive or preachers are not covering God properly.
I think both have serious challenge: how to communicate their message to audience and how to get audiences attention. Both have common purpose: public service. People should be their aims not means as Kant asserts. “Kant devoted to the principle that human beings are to be treated as ends and never merely as means in central in his ethics and politics, and nothing seemed more dreadful to this man than that any person should be degraded by the tyranny of another man’s will.” (Melden 1955: 291)

I assume the ethics is relationship: First to its creator and to fellow human. Jesus summed up this in Mark 12.29-31 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." And Mt 7.12 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

Therefore ethic is natural low given by God to his people who know him. But this natural law has broken from the beginning. The first man’s wife Eve expressed her overwhelming joy after she gave birth to Cain, “I have gotten a man child with the help of the LORD.” (Gen 4.1) The first human family, society has formed with such affection. However, her joy, love, affection and harmony have cruelly crushed when Cain murdered his first, only brother. His brother’s blood was crying to God who is deeply affected after Adam’s disobedient.

Cain has discriminated his spiritual relationship to God, social relationship to his family and physical relationship to his brother. Similar story appeared in the New Testament when Judas went to Jesus said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. (Mt 26.49) Judas betrayed the Son of God and his fellow friends to chief priests and elders of the people. Like Cain and Judas broke the spiritual relationship with the Lord and the brotherly friendship with other disciples in hypocrisy, falsehood, wrong accusation and self-interested desire.

Both cases are an illustration of the “unethical” and “immoral” to God and to their fellow human. Human society needs a set of rules and standards of conduct to reliable each other. Christ set a golden rule in his gospel how we should build relationship in society. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Lk 6.31; Rom 13.8).

A leader has an important function in moral rules desire the greatest good for many people. The moral practice is not sufficient only with knowledge of moral theory but concerned with doing right. To make a sound judgment the moral practitioners need moral philosophy. The theoretical interest is concerned with knowing, the practical interest is concerned with doing. Aristotle commented that “good judgment in ethical theory is possible only for those who by virtue of their training and resulting character know, to begin with, what is good and what is bad.” (Melden 1955:3)

Traditionally, the Christian religion has functioned as the vehicle for moral instruction, criticism, and progress but unfortunately modern Christian religion does not provide a satisfactory solution to the problem of moral philosophy.

Socrates asked: is a thing holy because the gods love it or do gods love it because it is holy? (Melden 1955:5) The Christian ethic can derive from this; I must be holy because loved by God, because I loved by God I must practice the love, then I will become holy and the wills of God will fulfill in us and others.

What is the moral discourse in human behavior and attitudes; such as right and wrong, good and bad? Morality was not the proper object of inquiry in Communist society and religion. The identification of morality with satisfactory moral rules was not fundamentally employed in that society. The moral traditions, values and habits have changed in that society. The moral end, causes and effect, and the cost are the consequences of the practice of morality. In communist society people are more self-interested, injustice, immorality without moral philosophy, and the standard of right and wrong and good bad are ambiguous.

The trial of Socrates and his subsequent execution turned Plato away from his earlier thought of a public career; for he saw that effective and desirable social action was impossible without the wisdom Socrates persistently sought to achieve. After Socrates’ death in 399B.C. Plato left Athens and retired to Megara along with other disciples of Socrates. Plato never dismissed from his mind the dream of a good society, one ruled over by philosopher-kings. Plato asked the meaning of “just”. The Greek word for just means “right” in English. It covers the whole field of the individuals conduct is so far as it affects others” ( Ibid:21)

The republic of Plato defines the justice as:

a. Honesty in word and deed. (2Kings 5.15-27)
b. Helping friends and harming enemies. This is a fundamental doctrine in the ‘republic’. A society must be ruled by man who knows moral virtue -‘the art of living- the true end of human life, and the meaning of goodness in all its forms. Plato compares the practice of morality to the useful arts or crafts; medicine, navigation, shoemaking. (Mt 15.14; Lk 6.39) “If a man imagines that the end of life is to gain wealth or powers, which are valueless in them, all his actions will be misdirected. It leads to the central thesis that society must be ruled by men who have learnt, by long and severe training, not only the true end of human life, but the meaning of goodness in all its forms. ”(Ibid: 25)
c. The interest of the stronger. Justice or right is nothing but the name given by the men actually holding power in any state to any actions they enjoin by law upon their subjects; and that all their laws are framed to promote their own personal or class interest. ‘Just’ accordingly means what is for the interest of the stronger, ruling party. ( Exodus 1; Rom 13.1-7)

First thing need to be considered is the end of man or the reason why he was created. That will guide proper moral action. In the element of moral theology, R. C. Mortimer-cannon of Christ Church- define the “end of man” is God. The term “end” distinct between an objective and a subjective end. The subjective end subdivided into principle and secondary. The principle end has chief intention and the secondary end has an additional intention.

The ultimate end of man is nothing less than God Himself because God is the sum of all perfection and lacks nothing. “The creatures reflect the perfection of God as in a mirror. The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showed His handiwork.” Therefore, man’s objective end is to manifest the glory of God eternally by free intelligent worship.

Man’s true final subjective end is eternal happiness and perfect good. If he does will what is bad, it is only because he wrongly considers it to be good. True or perfect happiness consists in the attainment of an end or the possession of good, which can never be lost, but is permanent. For if the desire remains in any way or degree unsatisfied, happiness is imperfect. The only such perfect good is God.

“Only God with His infinite truth and goodness can satisfy all man’s desires for understanding and love. Only in the knowledge and love of the infinite God can man’s intelligence and will find any permanent resting place. God, then, is man’s subjective end foe his good and his happiness.”(Mortimer 1947: 4)

Other definition of man’s subjective end is the summum bunum, highest happiness, in pleasure and the enjoyment of the good things of this life. Man’s final end, then, is to manifest the glory of God because man is made in the image of God. God’s perfection is only possible in close union with and dependence on God.

According to Paul in his Athenian preaching man is bound to seek God, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ (Acts 17. 26-28)

The whole life of man, his body, mind and spirit must be dedicated to God, in every action and at every moment. Man should seek always the one final end in which he was created. Again Mortimer said, “Man’s final end is God. Human nature is understood when it is recognized that man is a creature designed to know and love God. That human nature is perfected and realize itself, as man’s thoughts and actions are directed to his true end.” (Ibid: 6)

The Nicomachean Ethics in Aristotle’s book I “The good for man”.

Every craftsman’s aim must be good for man. Especially politics should have greater aim for good for man, even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state. In a political science, the chief end must be the good for man.

Secondly, inexperienced man in the life of action may defect if he takes politics or theology even he gains the knowledge because he may not gain the knowledge, as he should. Thirdly, most man identifies the good, or happiness with pleasure, which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment. Some people of superior identify happiness with honor, but honor should seek on the ground of their virtue.

According to Aristotle there are two kinds of virtue: intellectual and moral. The intellectual virtue requires experience while moral virtue comes as a result of habit (ethos). We learn by doing, men become builders by building.

In order to become good craftsman, we must examine the nature of actions, how we do because these determine the states of character that are produced. The virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good, and which makes him do his own work well. “Virtue must have the quality of aiming at the intermediate with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue.” (Melden 1955: 106) the Christian virtue may sum up in Rom 14.1-9

The pleasure in the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle’s book X

The pleasure means to enjoy the things we ought, and the pain is to hate the things we ought. Man should choose what is pleasant and avoid what is painful that is happy life. Pleasure is mostly the object of choice the greatest good, which is good for all things and at which all aim was the good. But this relate to remarkable self-controlled. Plato proves the good not to be pleasure. He argues that the pleasant life is more desirable with wisdom.

On the other hand Mortimer defines virtue as good habit. A habit is not the activity itself, but a quality or condition of the agent. A habit imparts to its possessor the power to perform a particular action easily and readily. A habit of giving alms to one’s neighbour is good habit but the drunkenness is bad habit.

There are five intellectual virtues;
A. The power to recognize first principles
B. The power to argue and infer conclusion from first principles. Cleverness or mental ability is clearly a good condition of the mind.
C. Wisdom and sound judgment. The wisdom crowns the work of cleverness with further reflection and judgment.
D. The virtue of prudence, the habit of right choice, is an excellence of the practical, which is, enables us to judge in any circumstances what the best thing to be done is.
E, An artistic skill
A musician or missionary express his art in making harmonious noises.

“Virtue in the ordinary sense is habits which not only make certain actions easy for us to perform, but also ensure that we perform them rightly.” ( Mortimer 1947: 101)

The moral virtue are distinct from the intellectual virtue because it is more practical concerned with right actions. The right theory and right desire may ensure by right action. Thus virtue is habit of right action.

Moral virtue is defined by Aquinas as bona qualitas mentis qua recte vivitur, qua nullus male utitur: a good habit of the mind productive of good living and incapable of abuse. (Ibid:102) The intellectual virtues-cleverness and art- can be abused but moral virtue proceed from right action cannot be abused. However, the moral virtue can be reduced to the four cardinal virtues of temperance; the passion of desire, fortitude; anger and fear, justice; principle of fair distribution, prudence; right determinations in every case.

Because virtue is not born but habit the moral virtues are acquired by constant practice and exercise. Some people whom “self-indulgent in drink and sex, yet kind to children and honest in business, is not virtue. Virtue is a habit of acting rightly, easily, and always that lacks of prudence also is not virtue.” (Ibid:105)

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