Re: Religious Life/Professional Ethics

Tom Pearson (
Sat, 07 Feb 1998 14:50:29 -0600 (CST)

At 10:39 PM 2/5/98 -0600, Keith B Miller wrote:

>From Tom's comments I think that perhaps he is assuming that a religiously
>guided ethics would yield a specific, and uniform, decision in a given
>ethical dilema. There would be a single "Christian" ethical answer to any
>given ethical question. I would argue that Christians, even when
>possessing identical theological positions, might arrive at different
>resolutions to a given dilema.

A point well taken. You've put your finger on one of my soft spots.
I do, in fact, assume that any Christian principle is by its nature
universal. And since it now seems plausible to me that, within professions,
there are no universally applicable principles for resolving ethically
congested situations, it also seems plausible to me that effective ethical
principles for professional life cannot be drawn from Christianity. Rather,
I'm wondering if those ethical principles aren't better articulated from
within the scope of the professional practice itself -- if perhaps those
principles aren't context-specific, or "profession-specific." I'm aware
this is a sizable inference I'm making, and I'm working it through, as it
were, with fear and trembling.

>As I commented earlier, I don't believe
>that scripture prescribes answers to particular ethical questions but
>rather directs us to develop the mind of Christ, adapting His priorities
>and His mission - to become His disciples. How that plays out specifically
>may vary from situation to situation and person to person. I am not
>disturbed by Christians coming to different conclusions on a given specific
>ethical question, as long they are all striving to follow scriptural
>priorities. For example: two Christians may argue on different sides of
>whether a new development project should be built. That is fine as long as
>both are consciously trying to be faithful to their stewardship of
>creation, concern for the poor, putting the good of others above their own
>interests, etc. However, if one would say "The possible impact of this
>project on the environment is not a significant issue" - then I would argue
>that their ethics are not biblically based.

You've put your finger on another problem here, Keith, but this one
is not of my own making. The example you've offered points to the kind of
difficulty so many of the professionals I've interviewed have with the
effort to correlate their Christian (or other religious) beliefs with their
professional practice. The principles elicited from those beliefs turn out
to be so broad in scope, that they appear to many to be inadequate when
summoned for guidance in bringing closure to ethical issues. Invoking "the
stewardship of creation" provides scant direction for, say, an engineer who
needs to decide how to dispose of toxic waste responsibly. There are so
many factual, conceptual and moral questions that attend to the specific
functions embedded in nearly all professions these days, that it seems
better to me if the model for resolving such questions emerges from within
the profession rather than from a set of religious commitments.

Tom Pearson

Thomas D. Pearson
Department of History & Philosophy
The University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, Texas