Re: Religious Life/Professional Ethics

Robert L. Miller (
Wed, 04 Feb 1998 22:56:51 -0800

Tom Pearson wrote in part:

> The notion of "relevance" doesn't seem to me to be at issue in these
> discussions. The "relevance" between one thing and another can be
> established in a variety of ways. What I am most concerned about is whether
> any professional ethic can be directly *derived from* divine Law, and
> whether that Law can be *specifically applied* in the kinds of ethical
> situations that professionals most often encounter. Based on my research,
> I'm beginning to think the answer is, "probably not."

I would like to give you parts of a couple of paragraphs from Wolfhart
Pannenburg's article
"When Everything is Permitted", First Things, Feb, 1998, which I think speaks to
your "probably not."

"It may well be the case that the moral crisis of modern secular societies is
attributable to the fact that God is no longer publicly recognized as the source
of moral norms. As long as such a recognition was intact, the absolute validity
of moral norms and the individual sense of obligation to those norms were
secure. Historical experience demonstrates that, for societies and for
individuals, the autonomy of reason cannot successfully replace the authority of
God. In this respect, Rousseau is fully vindicated. As is Dostoyuevsky, whose
Ivan Karamazov observed that, without God, "everything is permitted."

...In the histroy of Christian ethics, Christian ethics is not only for
This universal concern is overwhelmingly evident from the time of the early
Church Fathers. Christian ethics addresses all human beings as creatures of the
one God; all are involved in the fall of Adam, and all are called to
reconciliation with God, liberation from the bondage of sin and death, and final
glorification in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This
understanding of the nature and history of mankind explains the missionary
imperative of Christianity. It is grounded in the belief that all humanity and
the entire universe is created by the God of Israel who revealed himself
definitively in Jesus Christ. True, this understanding is no longer shared by
everybody in our societies, and it therefore does not characterize the spirit of
our public culture. It is viewed as an understanding peculiar to Christians. But
it is nonetheless a Christian understanding that embraces all human beings.
Christian ethics, then is not limited to Christians but is related to the moral
situation and calling of all. This is the connection between the particular and
universal in Christian thought, and it is a connection that must be honored also
today in Christian moral reasoning... As the early Church integrated the classic
catalogueof virtues into the Christian doctrine of virtue that culminates in the
Pauline triad of faith, hope, and love, so Christian ethics today must
comprehend all that is true in moral reasoning beyond the formal boundaries of
Christianity itself. We dare not forget that John 3:16 begins. with"God so loved
the world..." Christian ethics that is worthy of the name understands itself to
be a moral account of and for the world."