Sunday, May 13, 2007

Relational Ethics Part 3

Top-Down or Bottom-Up
Typically when one hears the term ethics, one is immediately filled with a vision of a list. There are two sides to this list. The left side has a white background with black letters. Each sentence begins with the same bold, italicized, upper case letters. They say, “THOU SHALT.” On the opposite side of the page we find that the background has shifted from white to black and the sentence type is now in white so that it is more legible. Each sentence on this side of the page, still bold, italicized, and upper case letters, says, “THOU SHALT NOT.” Unfortunately, modernity has been a catalyst for driving us into a world filled with absolutes and knowledge of black and whites. “We tend to think of ethics as moral argument or rules. We live in a culture of experts, in which there are professional ethicists who are expert in the construction of arguments and the analysis of rules.” Thus our lives and particularly our churches are filled with lists upon lists of do’s and don’ts. Our congregations are essentially led by top down ethics where the pastor is seen as the expert. “There is, however, a way of looking at ethics from the bottom up, in which it is perfectly proper form of ethical directive to say, for example to a child, ‘We do not do that.’ Probably the response from the child, and perhaps also from the professional ethicist, will be ‘Why not?’ Very often that is an important question to ask, but there are other occasions when it may be more productive to ask a different question: Who are ‘we’? The question ‘Why?’ calls for an explanation; ‘Who?’ invites understanding.” In saying this, Meeks is making an argument for the appropriation of bottom up, post-modern, ethics as opposed to top-down, modern, ethics.

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