Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Candidates of Virtue or Vice? (Trump and Clinton Through The Lenses Of Ethical Theory)

The Old Testament records that, when Israel wanted to have a ruler that looked like their neighbors, they had one demand of God: “Give us a king” (1 Samuel 8:6).  In God’s fulfillment of their request we are reminded of the caution that we ought to be careful what we wish for lest we get it. We are not Israel, but our plaintive “Give us a President!” resounds during this election with an unsettling biblical echo.

We the people – or at least the political machinery that claims to offer us all a constitutional republic that reflects our wills – have chosen two historically unpopular candidates. This looked like a banner year for third party candidates – until they unveiled their own candidates (I’m talking to you, Libertarian Party).

My friends, family and colleagues are more divided this election than perhaps any other since I began voting.  Many are reluctant supporters of Clinton or Trump; some are excited to some degree. More than usual are going third party this year if for no other reason than to send a loud message that is time for the independents to rise.

So what’s a Christian to do? We are citizens of Heaven first, be we are also American citizens who have been given the opportunity and perhaps even the mandate to be involved. The Bible uses imagery of salt and light to describe a Christian’s spiritual influence; it’s easy to see how this has a pragmatic call as well. It's just not easy to see what to do when when voting appears to be inevitably morally compromising.

I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach. This is the kind of election where the oft repeated mandate to ‘vote your conscience’ carries more truth – and weight – than perhaps ever before. In the interest of providing a way to think through this choice, I will offer a series of posts that cover various ethical theories that can be applied as one prepares for this year's election. I am convinced that no one ethical theory does justice to the complexity of our world; nonetheless, I hope the process of viewing life through several different ethical lenses will bring increasing clarity.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond


“Be yourself!"
"Be who you are!" 
"You’re on the right track, baby; you were born that way!”


Sound familiar? We hear these phrases (or some form of them) constantly. The idea is that if you can just find the real you and live it, all will be well. As compelling as that idea is in theory, it's often disastrous. I often think of Joss Whedon’s counter-commentary: “Remember to always be yourself – unless you suck.” It’s not Shakespeare, but you get the point.

The idea of “being who you are” shows up in Star Trek: Beyond, the third installment in the recently re-imagined Star Trek universe. While there's much to be said for the movie (including how critics and fans are in agreement on its merits), I am going to focus on the remarkably different outcomes in Kirk and Krall's respective efforts to be true to themselves.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Post-Orlando Question #3: "Are Christians Creating A Dangerous Moral Climate for the LGBT Community?"

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Orlando, I decided to address several issues that dominated headlines for a time. Part One addressed the question of who was responsible for the shooting in Orlando. Part Two offered some thoughts on how we know when individuals truly represent groups. The third and final post in this series will address an even more complex dilemma:

“When it comes to the creation of a ‘moral climate’, is there a proper difference to be made between disagreeing, criticizing, discriminating, oppressing, dehumanizing, and killing, or is this all one thing on a continuum?”

After the shooting in Orlando, The Atlantic’s religion reporter wrote, “There is a loose connection that is very difficult to pin down between some of the anti-gay and anti-trans rhetoric that we’ve seen in the U.S. not primarily from Muslim groups but from Christian groups that have laid a foundation for homophobia and transphobia. Although most of the groups that are supporting that type of rhetoric would not condone the type of violence we saw in Orlando, it does create an environment of bigotry and acceptance of homophobia against LGBT people.” 

Is this true? And if so, how is this climate created? And if it exists, is it as bad as many commentators are suggesting? Let’s start by looking at some common definitions of the words I listed just so we have a common starting point for this discussion.

  • Disagree: have or express a different opinion
  • Criticize: indicate faults in a disapproving way; to talk about the problems or faults of something
  • Discriminate: recognize a distinction; differentiate; make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things.
  • Oppress: keep someone in subservience and hardship, especially by the unjust exercise of authority; to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints
  • Dehumanize: deprive of human qualities, personality or spirit; divest of individuality; to treat someone as if they are not a human being.[1]

I am going to venture a guess that we all acknowledge that disagreeing and criticizing are just a part of life. We do it all the time. We think for ourselves; we have preferences; we believe some things are right and other things wrong.  It's a natural part of the human experience.

We also discriminate constantly. We do this when we shop, go out to eat, choose a college, and decide where to get our news. We do it when we choose friends or spouses. We do it when we decided where to live. It’s not so much that we make distinctions; it’s whether or not those distinctions are just or fair, and if we have navigated the process with proper emotional and relational decorum. We all practice discrimination in this form; the question is when it becomes unjust and prejudicial. We will come back to that shortly.

Does it go without saying that oppression and dehumanization ought to be avoided at all cost? We might disagree about when these things happen, be we all agree they should not.

So, how do we make a distinction between just differentiation and unjust discrimination? And how do we identify when unjust discrimination creates a moral climate that moves people from discrimination to oppression and dehumanization?