Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Ethical Position Stands on Something

An ethical system is a wall made of many interlocking stones. They all effect each other and the higher ones rest on what exists beneath it. You do not build a wall from the top down, but from the bottom up. You lay foundation stones and then stack other stones upon the ones laid before in a systematic and thoughtful way. The base stones carry the most weight. In this analogy, they are the basic principles of any ethical system. From this foundation, more advanced concepts are developed, derive their context, and are provided their significance.

But no stone in a wall floats freely at its appropriate height, but must first be placed and rest on the lower stones. A stone by itself, devoid of support and context, will not keep out evil. Building up ethics is as time consuming and tedious as building a wall. You must lay stone upon stone and build up the structure piece by piece.

In the ancient ways of warfare, a popular way of taking down a defensive wall was to undermine it. Tunnels would be dug beneath the wall to deprive the foundation stones of their stability. Once the security on which the wall was built was compromised, the entire wall collapsed under its own weight. Defending the top of the wall was not enough in this case. The bottom of the wall was also in great danger.

Today, the carefully built wall of the Judeo-Christian ethical system is being undermined--not from above, but from below. It is the foundation that needs to be defended and secured, but the majority of the defenders remain on the ramparts worried about their pet piece of the rampart. It is no wonder that these defenders (like the "Moral Majority" and the "Religious Right" as examples) find themselves tumbling to the ground as their footing gives way. They had no idea where the attacks were actually directed.

Lets be honest: topics like gay marriage, contraception, and divorce are pretty high up on the wall. They rest on the stones of selflessness, duty, love, compassion, patience, dedication, integrity, sacrifice, gender roles and differences, and even vocation. Topics like evolution, higher criticism, and narcissistic theological interpretations rest on the stones of scriptural authority. Those lower stones are the ones that are really under attack and those are the ones that must be reinforced, secured, and replaced... first! The failure at the higher levels is just a symptom of the foundation problem. Trying to dress the cracks in the mortar at the top is not going to address the fundamental threat.

Yes... the entire wall is important. The entire wall must be defended, but do not think that the top of the wall--or even the middle of the wall--can stand on its own if the bottom falls out from underneath it.

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