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Scott R. Paeth

  • Scott R. Paeth is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He works in the fields of Christian Social Ethics and Public Theology.

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January 31, 2013

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Craig

Nice post. I'd love to hear your response to a follow-up question.

You interpret the question as raising an epistemic issue (I think there are other reasons why someone might think that moral claims are in need of a foundation). On the epistemic issue, do you think that Christians (progressive or otherwise) possess any resources for moral guidance that non-Christians lack? If so, can these additional resources lead Christians to any general moral conclusion that are unlikely to be reached apart from those resources? If so, can you name any such moral conclusions?

Scott Paeth

It's a good question, and probably needs more thought than I can give it at the moment. But a first attempt at an answer would be that, yes, Christians possess many resources that non-Christians lack, but that doesn't guarantee that they necessarily come up with better answers.

I suppose one way of thinking about it is that morality is about a lot more than getting to the right solution, it's about the total way you see the world. Multiple worldviews can develop better or worse solutions to particular problems, but what distinguishes them is the form that the world takes through their religious perception. For Christians, it's fundamentally "Christomorphic." At its best, that may offer possibilities for self-sacrifice and self-giving love that others may lack, but others may get to the same place through other means.

Craig

Scott, what you say in response seems right and insightful. I can see how alternative ethical systems might prompt moral perspectives that differ in practical ways from perspective that submissively looks to guidance from Christ and his teachings. But you are also right that there's probably not a single substantive moral conclusion that a Christian might thereby reach that couldn't be reached through some other ethical perspective.

So I guess my question should be re-stated. What substantive first-order moral judgments (or sets thereof) are "characteristically Christian" in the following sense: they are easy to reach with Christianity's distinctive resources for moral guidance, but not so easy to reach apart from those resources? Of particular interest to me would be any such characteristically Christian moral judgments that aren't widely recognized, or are highly contested, among our contemporaries.

Craig

I should add that I think there might also be "characteristically non-Christian" moral judgments, in the same sense. These would be moral judgments that are easily discouraged by Christ-centered moral perspectives--which, importantly, is not to say that they cannot be reached from within such a perspective. For examples, I would look for moral responsibilities that fall between the cracks of interpersonal morality (loving your neighbor) and piety (loving God), or which are discouraged by peculiarly Christian views, (homosexuality is sinful; God will suddenly destroyed, and then remake, the earth; personal faith in Christ has all-important ramifications; the world is influenced by sin, Satan, and demons; etc.), or which regard sentiments that were either peculiarly dominant or were largely unrecognized in first-century Palestinian and Greek culture. So, I would suggest moral judgments regarding the long-term care of the environment and natural resources; regarding the modern state (e.g., duties of democratic civility and civil rights), modern warfare, and technology; and sexual norms. For particular moral judgments I would cite many of those that currently tend to set "Bible-believing" Christians apart from cultural progressives, or vice versa--often the kinds of judgments that either get the evangelical culture warriors up in arms, or which make the same people and their supporters the targets of everyone else's moral indignation, frustration, or disappointment.

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