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Posts from the ‘Ethics’ Category

Used Up All the Words?

A while back a film/book came across my desk via the MB Herald called “Lord Save us From Your Followers” (my review for the Herald can be found here).  It’s the brainchild of Oregon film-maker Dan Merchant, and asks the question, “Why don’t Christians in America look more like Jesus?”  Merchant travels around the USA in a bumper-sticker/Jesus-fish clad set of coveralls in order to generate dialogue with people who don’t think like him—to challenge the confrontational, antagonistic, and polarizing nature of religious discourse in America. Read more

Responsible Consumption

Yet another shameless self-promotion alert!!

The MB Herald (our denominational magazine here in Canada) has graciously published another one of my articles as a part of their ongoing column focusing on issues around consumerism and individualism (readers of this blog with a long enough memory will notice similarities to a post from a while back). If you’re interested, you can have a look here. Read more

Looking for Trouble in Faith

I stumbled upon this article by British writer Julie Burchill around a month ago and it’s been bouncing around upstairs off and on ever since.  It’s kind of a scattered piece and there are parts of it that just make me scratch my head (based on my brief perusal of the comments section, my criticism would definitely fall into the “mild” category).  Nevertheless, I found one passage near the beginning to be a thought-provoking one.  Describing her transition from atheism to Christianity, Burchill has this to say about what it means to be “religious”: Read more


I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “nature” lately—a word which I think is seized upon in confused and inconsistent ways in our ecologically-sensitive times.  Several streams contribute to what follows: 1) Stanley Fish’s amusing editorial in today’s New York Times; 2) a piece I came across on the First Things blog a while back; and 3) a chapter from Matt Hern’s Watch Yourself which discusses our views of nature in the broader context of our cultural obsession with safety. Read more

When Wouldn’t I Forgive You?

In my previous post I admiringly reflected upon my son’s instinctive willingness to forgive and wondered what the world might look like if more people adopted this strategy. One commenter justifiably inquired as to the limits of forgiveness—if it really ought to be as “reckless” as I was recommending. His challenge to me was as follows: Read more

Why Wouldn’t I Forgive You?

Moving to and setting up in a new place can be a stressful time. There is lots of assembling things, moving them around, running around buying this or that miscellaneous item, returning said item when it doesn’t fit or work as you expected it to, etc. Several consecutive days of this can leave one feeling a bit tired and, well, short-tempered. When you combine parents who are preoccupied with setting up a house with kids who are getting less attention than they are normally accustomed to, you have a recipe for frustration. Read more

In Praise of Mennonites

As one who was raised in, continues to be nourished by, and will be working within the Mennonite tradition, I couldn’t resist posting a link to Greg Boyd’s latest post. I think Boyd is just a bit too breathless in his praise of Mennonites (two friends are currently writing theses about Mennonites—one examining just how consistently they have historically applied their ethic of nonviolence with each other, and another on Mennonites’ contribution to an overly individualistic approach to faith), but I think that he does point to some genuinely admirable features of the tradition that the rest of the Christian world would profit from paying attention to.

God knows Mennonites aren’t perfect, but I do think that we understand some things well, and, at our best, embody a way of being in the world that seeks to reflect the means by which God has accomplished his redemption of the world.

h/t: Waving or Drowning

A Circuitous Path to Environmentalism

When I was a kid I distinctly remember feeling, at times, somewhat resentful of my “Mennonite-ness.” It wasn’t anything distinctly theological (although like many kids, I suppose, there were moments when I didn’t like being “the Christian” amongst a group of friends who mostly were not) or cultural (I don’t recall particularly liking borscht at the time, but ours was not a family that clung to any of the typical cultural identifiers of German “Mennonite-ness” too fiercely). I knew enough Christians to mitigate the unpleasantness produced by my status as a “cognitive minority,” and there were enough sweet German pastries to offset those Mennonite dishes that happened to offend my palate. No, the source of my resentment lay elsewhere. Read more

“Belief” in God

One of the things I find interesting, whether in the course of my thesis research or just ordinary conversations, is the matter of what inclines people to belief or unbelief in God. How is that person A, when presented with the raw data of the natural world, will incline toward atheism while person B will look at the identical data and choose belief? Is faith simply an arbitrary “gift” given by God to some and withheld from others? Or, as fundamentalists on either side of the atheism/theism divide would have us believe, is belief/unbelief simply a matter of who is intelligent (or spiritually perceptive) enough to see the “obvious” truth? All of us, as twenty-first century “modern” people, live in what Charles Taylor has called “the immanent frame”—a set of social, technological, scientific, and political structures which can be understood on its own terms without reference to the supernatural. Why do some choose to see this frame as “open” to the possibility of the transcendent while others see it as “closed?” Read more

Two Ways of Waiting

Lent is a time of waiting—something we are all, in various ways and to varying degrees, familiar with. During Lent our waiting is oriented towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the high points of the Christian calendar. But “waiting” is a theme that extends far beyond the period of Lent. Read more

(Grateful?) Cognitive Minorities

I count it a good Sunday morning at church when I leave the building empowered with good ideas for living well. Among other things, I think, the Sunday morning service ought to provide people with tools for interpreting their experience (at an individual or collective level) through the lens of the biblical narrative. Church ought to be a place where people can go to have both the world, and their beliefs about it (religious or otherwise) rendered in intelligible terms, and in a manner that both challenges and encourages the way in which they participate in it. No small task, to be sure, but this morning’s service managed to accomplish all of these things, benefiting greatly from a little “outside help.” Read more

Morality: Divine Spark or Evolutionary Trick?

A good deal of my reading this week has been on human moral intuitions and the role they are playing in the jeremiads against God and religion served up by the “new atheists.” I’ve read enough over the years to be roughly familiar with the typical evolutionary story told about the origins of morality: morality has evolved because it enhanced our evolutionary fitness. Whether the story told is one of group selection, preserving social cohesion, or reciprocal altruism, at the end of the day, the scientists tell us, we are moral creatures because this is the best way to get our genes into the next generation. Read more

The Altruists Paradox

A few days ago, I came across this piece on the nature of altruism from John Tierney in the New York Times. Apparently brain scans conducted at the University of Oregon found that “pleasure areas” of the brain are activated in experiments where participants performed a charitable act, thus demonstrating that there is a biological basis for altruism. Typically results such as this are thought to bolster arguments against theistic belief—if some human behaviour can be shown to produce pleasure its origins must clearly be explained without remainder by evolutionary biology. Read more

To What End, Ethics? (II)

A few final thoughts about The Ethical Imagination

Somerville concludes her reflections upon how and why we must find a well-grounded basis for a shared ethic with a plea for a return to “past virtues for a future world.” Our humanness ought to be held in trust for future generations—in other words, we have an obligation not to radically alter, through our various technologies, the essence of what it is to be human. Trust, courage, compassion, generosity, hope—these are all thought to be vital components of thinking and acting ethically in a context where human beings possess unprecedented capabilities to alter what it means to be human. Read more

The Limits of “the Natural”

More on The Ethical Imagination

Somerville exhibits a virtual reverence for “the natural” in her quest to argue for the “secular sacred” as a potential universal grounding for ethics. In situations of ethical ambiguity, our default position should always be to “the natural.” Let me give you an example. Read more

The Elephant in the Room

More on Margaret Somerville’s The Ethical Imagination

For those who remember, Somerville’s project is to argue for a shared ethic based on what she terms “the secular sacred” (a term that I continue to have reservations about). I read her take on “truth” a couple of days ago and while my initial reaction was somewhat negative, I now find myself wondering if there may be some pragmatic merit in what she says. Read more

To What End, Ethics?

One of my philosophy professors at the University of Lethbridge once said something to the effect that all higher education is, in some form or another, about learning how to read a book, and the farther I have gone in my academic journey, the more I have realized the truth of this statement. I have actually found blogging about the books I read to be a helpful way of learning how to do this, both in terms of processing them more fully, and learning how to articulate their arguments more adequately through the discussions that sometimes follow. So, having said that, on to what’s currently distracting me from my studies… Read more

What He Said

I’m providing the following link to Ben Witherington‘s recent post about blog etiquette. I’m not doing this because I feel that discussion and debate on this blog has been particularly rancorous or uncivil or anything like that. Far from it.

I have, however, had a few recent attempts to post comments anonymously. Here I am in agreement with Dr. Witherington’s “First Commandment”—if you can’t at least identify yourself in some way and stand behind a comment you wish to make public, then it’s not going to appear here. Again, this is not a common occurrence by any means, but clarity on these matters is always better than confusion.