Book Review – Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics

In my ever growing stack of books I want to read I came across this book in Portland.  Quickly it jumped to the top of the pile.

What does it mean to follow ethics?  Is it duty, pleasure seeking, something greater?  Since the greatest questions do not have apparent answers – we can enjoy the self-discovery.  Just like Job, when like any person, reached his breaking point he cried out ‘Why?’ and God answered.  Clearly God did not answer with an explanation but with other question proving His sovereign power to which Job was satisfied.  God’s mysteries are greater than man’s solutions.  One of the mysteries of God is why allows evil to exist, but that may be another book [The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis].  This great mystery has had many attempts to give a solution for some have failed and yet are still followed, and others give a glimpse of the great mystery.

Steve Wilkens compiles 9 common ethical theories: ‘When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do’ – Cultural Relativism, ‘Look Out for Number One’ – Ethical Egoism, ‘I Couldn’t Help Myself’ – Behaviorism, ‘The Greatest Happiness’ – Utilitarianism, ‘It’s your Duty’ – Kantian Ethics, ‘Be Good’ – Virtue Ethics, ‘All you Need is Love’ – Situation Ethics, ‘Doing What Comes Naturally’ – Natural Law Ethics, ‘God Said It, I believe It, That Settles It’ – Divine Command Theory.  In each a fair summary is given, what is right about the theory, and then what is wrong.

However despite the Christian appeals Wilkens keeps the mystery.  As each chapter contains a bumper sticker title, it is that type of thinking that is argued against.  As soon as we give a solution of Man, God’s mystery is ignored.

“Instead of accepting ‘bumper stickers’ at face value, this system fills in the blanks and provides arguments about why its views are better than other options.  Only when we dig deeper into bumper sticker-sized bits of moral directive ca we know if an ethical perspective will bear the weight of a lifetime of moral decisions.”

Ethics ought to be used to argue for and support our own ethics.  How ironic would it be to support a deontological point of view with an ‘end justifies the means’ method.  If we do then we could become the Operative in this scene in Serenity.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: I don’t murder children.
The Operative: I do. If I have to.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?
The Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

Evil can never justify itself, but what it can do is cloud mistake the actions and center only on the outcomes.  This is why Socrates is still looked up to as the searcher looking for Truth (and yes, I’ll forget about The Apology).  Wilkens concludes his book by writing:

“Socrates can remind Christians of something valuable here. Many of us feel pressures to come up with the right answer right away.  However, this can lead us to be dishonest in the process.  Truthfulness, goodness, and rightness need the characterize not only our conclusions buyt also the mans by which we get to our conclusions.  And if there is any place where Christians should be honest, it is the ethical process.”

An uniquely honest and ethical perspective from an unique book.


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