Forward to Basics


An ethic is the framework we use for making decisions about our own lives and the way we live with other people and things. Ethics are not necessarily Good or Bad but when people say a decision is Ethical they usually mean that it is a good decision whereas it is simply a decision made rationally from a particular standpoint.

Here are some well known ethics:

We usually live within more than one of these ethics; our private ethic might be love but our public ethic might be utilitarian. We may be free to use our own assets generously but collectively, as a society, we might not agree on gener-osity but opt for utilitarianism, or even for outright competitive selfishness.

Here are some basic ideas:

For Christians, then, the idea of an ethic comprises:

  1. Setting boundaries
  2. Respecting others
  3. Tolerating difference
  4. Making love the top priority.

Ethics are often confused with codes. Codes are practical rules that result from applying ethics but often people talk of "codes of ethics" and "ethical codes" interchangeably.

Let us now look at our four principles of a Christian ethic:

  1. Boundaries. We all know that there are degrees of acceptability in the way that we behave and that, no matter how unsatisfactory, lines have to be drawn; there has to be a point at which:

    • A party becomes a nuisance
    • A bundle of cells becomes a person
    • The exercise of power becomes exploitive
    • Well intentioned legislation becomes oppressive
    • An ardent passion becomes rape.

    How do we fix these boundaries?

  2. Respecting Others. Some Christians believe that God has given them a code rather than an ethic; the Bible tells us what is right and wrong. This makes it impossible for them to respect different ethics or different approaches to the same ethic.

    The idea of respect is based on the centrality of the conscience, the liberty of Christians to make their own decisions based on a careful consideration of what love requires. Respect means:

    • Imagining the other person's framework
    • Imagining the other person's problem, dilemma, disputed boundary
    • Assuming the other person operates within an ethic in good faith
    • According space for the other to carry out any prac-tical measures that their ethical conclusion requires.

    What can we say about people who claim that their ethic requires:

    • Racial differentiation between ethnic groups or classes
    • Abortion
    • High interest money lending
    • Same sex relationships?
  3. Tolerating difference. How far are we our "brother's keeper"?

    • Is it our responsibility to promote our ethic or is this our private business * If the latter, what is the role of the Christian as an ethics promoter?
  4. Love. Christians are the people of love but in an ethical context what do we mean by love:

    • Guiding people to the right choice
    • Loving unconditionally
    • Creating space for difference?

    These are all very difficult questions but we are not expected to act alone. Jesus founded a Church to help us.