Ethics: What is morality?

Seems to me one of the questions near the surface during the election and now salient in our culture is, “What is morality?” There is a great rift between those who define morality as a set of rules for clean living and those who define morality more as social responsibility.

For example, on one side of the rift are those who primarily view ethics in terms of personal morality. I spoke to one lady who said she abhors immoral gay marriage yet does not view war as immoral. She perhaps would represent the side that views morality as correct personal sexual and clean living choices based on how she views commands in Scripture. On the other side are those who view morality as a social value. I know another person who calls the war in Iraq and killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis, many innocents, immoral. The same person believes rejection of the Kyoto Protocol as an immoral rejection of care for the environment.

It seems painfully obvious that many people, Christians included, do not know how to ground and frame ethical decisions and beliefs. We need help. I believe the Jesus ethic of Shema plus loving your neighbor as self is the beginning place for Christians toward an ethic of both personal and social morality and responsibility. Ethics is a huge area of needed thought and dialogue today. In the next six weeks I’ll be exercising my ethics muscles in researching and talking on a daily basis to thinkers, writers, doers on the theme of ethics. In 2005 Wineskins will publish an issue on ethics in order to provide a resource for knowing how to ground and frame and discuss and live out an ethical life.

I’m open to your input on ethics and on any resources you can direct me to.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

7 comments on “Ethics: What is morality?

  1. I’ll throw in a quotation that’s a bit haunting: “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” – Attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. – August Kerbert, Quotable Quotes of Education, p. 138 (1968).


  2. Morality cannot be reduced to what morality means on one systemic level. For example, personal morality, micro-social morality, macro-social morality are all going to appear different, but they fall under the definition of morality.

    Furthermore, each systemic level cannot avoid influencing every other level. What a person does impacts the world to some degree. How much gas my car burns is a global issue for the environment, economy, and politics…whether I want it to be or not. My every move is a legacy of some kind.

    It seems to me that there is an unhealthy dualism when people argue over which is more important, the personal or the contextual. Leaning toward either to the neglect of the other is a trainwreck waiting to happen. Furthermore, any theology propping up one over the other is at best incomplete and at worst, heretical.


  3. I just finished a mind-numbing semester in Fred Aquino’s Ethics class. It was a very challenging class. We discussed topics such as moral responsibility, moral judgment, justice and equality, globalization, and technology. We watched several movies that brought out some interesting ethical issues. These might be good reviews for the Ethics issue. Movies such as Mystic River, In America, and The Human Stain were great discussion partners. A book that really challenged me on the issue of globalization and our responsibility to the world-community was Peter Singer’s One World. Singer, and atheist, has a commitment to morality and justice that is, sadly, often absent in our churches.

    Also, Dr. Aquino is not a pacifist, so he might be a good resource to provide a different persepective from the Hauerwas, Hays, Camp viewpoint. There’s my contribution.


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