• Dr. Timothy X. Merritt

Ethics for the 21st Century – Part 3



Ethics for the 21st Century

There is a vast chasm of difference between individuals who dedicate their lives to Jesus, and organizations (other than churches) that choose to embrace the Christian philosophy as their moral foundation. There seems to be a sense that Christianity is exclusively for religious institutions, and all other organizations are better served by a modernist and secular worldview that embraces a humanistic philosophy, considers the diversity of belief to be a virtue, and upholds the rules of science and reason as the best foundation for ethical reasoning.


Regardless of an organization's type and purpose, all organizations will employ some system of ethics to make decisions involving human relationships. The ethical foundation may be decided on through a deliberate effort, or it may occur in a manner that is essentially accidental and unnoticed; nevertheless, each organization will adopt some ethical system. Moreover, that ethical system will eventually be tested with difficult situations, and often under the worst possible circumstances. Therefore, it makes sense for leaders to examine the ethical dimensions of the organizations they serve and purposefully decide which of the many ethical paths they will follow.


Postmodernism argues that eventually all worldviews, and the ethical systems they support, will fail and decay into meaninglessness. However, in much the same manner that Christianity offers salvation to individuals, the adaptation of Christian ethics offers 21st-century organizations is an alternative that is worth considering.


Advantages of Christian Ethics

Postmodernism asserts that the scientific approach tends to break ethics into smaller and smaller pieces until it cannot be put back together again, and it loses all meaning. Christianity responds by arguing that Scripture enables organizations to transform the character of their members into a form that more closely aligns with the mystery of God’s love. The ethical decisions which eventually emerge from within the transformed members accomplish organizational objectives in a morally correct manner that can be considered meaningful.


Even though Scriptural messages are open to interpretation; it is in a manner that revolves around the singularity of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Thousands of years of analysis and tradition form a bedrock of moral principles that result in consistently ethical decisions over time. This benefits an organization in that they become largely immune to the shifting cultural norms and popular opinion.


Christianity is unique in that its most highly valued utilitarian ends are the virtues of love, joy, and hope. With Scripture placed firmly as the source of knowledge about God's love and God's will, the Christian organization is free to use the traditions of the church, personal experiences and human reason to draw out the solutions to whatever ethical dilemmas it may encounter.


Disadvantages of Christian Ethics

Modernism emerged from the Age of Enlightenment in large part as a critique of Christian philosophy. Because of this, it is not in vogue for 21st-century organizations to adopt a Christian philosophical base, and indeed most organizations advocate for the humanistic value of diversity rather than embrace a Scriptural foundation for ethical conduct. Therefore, a significant disadvantage to the Christian organization is that it would be widely rejected by those who hold a modernist or postmodernist worldview.


Any benefits accrued to the Christian organization from embracing an ethical philosophy that is consistent over time are likely to be offset by conflicts and lawsuits such as those encountered by Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby when they resisted popular cultural norms to remain morally consistent with their Christian views.


Conclusion

The modernist worldview with its humanistic morality dominates our cultural thinking, and so long as it works there is no reason to change that. However, it is the arguments from postmodernism, which questions the legitimacy of information gained from science and brings into focus the inadequacy of human reason to discern absolute truth that ultimately creates a crisis of meaning and purpose. Deepening the crisis is the fact that postmodernism offers no real solutions to the problem of a mindless, directionless universe beyond a descent into self-referential egoism.


The Christian faith has endured persecution at the hands of Roman emperors, wars for religious domination, and reformations that make the changes wrought by the Age of Enlightenment and the rise of Modernity seem tame by comparison. If the postmodernist critique of modernity is correct (in that meaning and purpose cannot ultimately be derived through science and reason alone) Christianity stands ready for reconsideration as a foundational source of ethical thought for the organizations of the 21st century.


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