Tag Archives: Christian Ethics

“HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN IDENTITY: Response” – ROWAN WILLIAMS – THE 2018 PAYTON LECTURES

This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from the discussion after the first lecture.


Payton Lectures
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Human Rights and Human Identity” (Response)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams

Respondent #1: Matt Kaemingk

  • Two Camps: Those who see conflict between theology and those who see convergence
  • Those who see conflict now see there is a common ancestry and numerous ways that contemporary rights talk is still haunted by these origins
  • Those who see convergence now see there are some deep conceptual chasms between rights rooted in the sovereign will of an individual and the sovereign will of a loving God
  • Three points to press:
    • At multiple points stressed the need to thicken up our concept of rights in the common good. Why not go the minimalist route? Why not salvage rights discourse by making it more limited?
    • What is the relationship between the intellectual concept of rights and the spiritual longing to see those rights upheld? You can explain X has rights, and the people will intellectually agree, however, the problem is that citizens “no longer long or hope” for societies where X’s rights are upheld at all cost. What we need is not just an intellectual articulation but a longing for these rights to be made manifest.
    • At a couple of points you mention smaller communities – and an individual’s needs for small communities and spaces where we can practice mutuality/sharing. Speak more to the need of associational and communal life for being able to carry out this articulation of human rights.

 

Respondent #2: Clifton Clarke

  • The dominant question is how can we hold the language of human rights and keep our discourse about theological traditions. The concept of human rights is most prevalent articulation of a moral ideal.
  • Movement from rights to goals? Are these a demonstration that powerful nations are no longer interested in rights.
  • Needed to address the link between white privilege and rights being used to bolster its agenda. Similarly, between powerful nations and their failure to uphold justice simply because they are in power.
  • While human rights negates colonialism (at least in thought), it simultaneously is used to justify it.

 

Rowan Williams’ Reponse

  • One can’t address this topic w/o addressing the cultural involvements would be that would take us forward.
  • The question about desire: Do we actually want our citizenship to be genuinely shared with the stranger? We have such little desire for the wellbeing of others…
  • The question about the implication of rights discourse in a Eurocentric/western thought… Yes it needs to be recognized. Its already in the thought of John Locke. However, see as a counterexample: Bartolome de las Casas.
  • We have been reminded of the uncomfortable gap between right’s discourse and practices of power.
  • Rights discourse will only work in small particulars, i.e. communities.

 

Questions & Discussion

  • If there isn’t something metaphysical grounding why human beings are equal, then all we have is a “liberal consensus,” and that won’t be enough.
  • Freedom = ability to exercise your humanity to contribute to human flourishing. Freedom is not maximizing the individual’s consumer choice.
  • The neighbor I confront is never at my disposal because they are already claimed by Christ.
  • No I don’t think I have a right to be offended, what I do think is that I do have a right to exercise the gift God has given me in the community I have been placed. Some kinds of speech have the effect of negating that.
  • As so often the old chap gets it right brilliantly. (Speaking of John Calvin)
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“Human Rights and Human Identity” – Rowan Williams – The 2018 Payton Lectures

This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from this first talk.


Payton Lectures
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Human Rights and Human Identity” (Lecture)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams

Are “human rights” – a part of the Christian tradition?

  • Or are they simply a western concept? Cf. John Millbank and McIntyre

Is there a fit between “rights” language and the theological tradition?

  • Traditional religious texts don’t use the language of rights

Oliver O’Donovan – critiques this concept of unindividuated “rights”

  • Unrelated and unconditional demands – ownership/property model
  • But this isn’t actually the way HR works in jurisprudence

Universal Declaration of Human rights – 70 years ago

  • Developed partly by those who had a commitment to Christian personalism
  • The assumption which underlies this is that the dignity of the human person is under threat from totalitarian and liberal ideologies – the affirmation of inalienable rights is a statement about the limit if political authority – so they are not so much about individual claims but an attempt to secure against an “all powerful” state

The difficulty arises when you merge this “negative role” (limiting the state) with two other themes: it becomes a defense against the community

If you claim that all human beings have certain fundamental interests simply in version of being human – that is to say that no political authority can legitimately frustrate those interests w/o losing its moral authority.

Justice is primary among the virtues because it is not simply about me.

UDHR – Social and political order is to safeguard every citizen in the same way – Its not a commitment to subjects in the abstract – it is a recognition of interlocking interests. It falls somewhat short of what a Christian would want to say theologically. It assumes a crucial point: the state is legitimate only when it guarantees not to infringe upon basic securities – especially associations (church, cooperative working units) and families.

The UDHRs theologically ancestry is not to far below the surface.

Does pre-modern Christian thought have any analogy to contemporary rights talk?

  • Medieval discussions treat the word “ius” as an objectively appropriate share in material or social goods – so it concerned the right to perform certain acts.
    • It is my freedom to act it is also a proper expectation that will sustain my life/community
  • AQ [Aquinas] – the superabundance of the rich is owed to the poor for their support.
  • They see this whole issue in light of cosmic harmony – every element in the universe is in a reciprocal relationship with every other. Justice is essentially relational.

Appeal to a universal reciprocity for the good of others is very different than a list of individual entitlements.

AQ – Human law cannot overturn divine. There is a potential tension between a law of a society and the laws of the universe.

The classical theologically framed view of my “right/ius” is a freedom to give what I am meant to give and receive what I am meant to receive depends on a model of mutuality/reciprocity. This latter element has dropped out of modern discussion of human rights.

A contemporary version of AQ’s version of ius would need to address some of the problems in AQ’s views.

We need a strong doctrine of what humans owe one another and why they owe such things.

“Is the prisoner still a member of society – if the answer is no – you have some moral and political problems at hand.”

Dignity – or the value of the agent – is not something earned or conditional.

Definition of Person: One unrepeatable way in which God’s gift to creation becomes actual.

Any challenge to the state all depend on the belief that an individual stands as a point in a nexus of God’s creative activities.

A fuller understanding of language about rights – urges us to attend to the duties that rights entail but also that IUS is about the ability to exercise certain powers, and in a religious universe – maximizing the ability of others to exercise their God given powers. Part of what people is due is the ability to serve the good of their neighbor and community. To argue for a right that is abstracted from this ability is way off the mark.

Example: Freedom of Speech

  • Yes exercise rights – but this does not mean one has the freedom to use one’s speech in such a way that violates another individual’s ius.
  • FOS is not a clash of two rights (i.e. I have a right to free speech and you have a right not to be offended). This is a misunderstanding of rights language.
  • There is NO SUCH THING as a clash between two individual rights. Rights exist in a network of reciprocal relations.

Example: “Right” to Physician Assisted Suicide

  • Why have these debates stalemated? Perhaps we have some residue of communal ius – and we are worried about labeling some lives as not worth living, the relationship of trust between physician and patient – it threatens particular groups of citizens and also particular relationships
  • In this example, we are still operating with a communal understanding of things.

A higher collective authority does not override an individual’s “rights” – however, we need to understand the purpose of human beings to exercise their power towards a God given good – and this ability is always set in the context of entire communities.

Pro-life and pro-choice: stuck in “individual” rights discourse. What if we talked about this in terms of ius (cf. James Mumford), communities, and flourishing of relationships?

We need two things:

  • A thicker experience of shared discernment about what is good for communities.
  • The audible presence of communities who have a fixed commitment to the non-negotiable value of every human being. These communities are an indispensable tool for preventing modernity from seeing itself as infallible.

 

In tomorrow’s lecture: how the divine image can thicken up this account & how the human body grounds our understanding of the inviolable dignity of humans

Love, Obedience and Moral Obligation: Reflections on Scotus

Last week at 2016 Analytic Theology Seminar Series at Fuller Seminary Thomas Ward presented a paper on love for God in Duns Scotus’ works. For interaction with this paper

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Tom Ward is Assistant Professor and Graduate Director of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University (CA)

see a forthcoming blog post by JT Turner on Fuller’s Analytic Theology Blog. In the meantime here are some notes on Thomas Ward’s Lecture.

 

Love, Obedience and Moral Obligation: Reflections on Scotus

1.Contesting Voluntarism

  • Scotus – Divine Command is not the source of our obligation to Love God above all things. Love of God entails an obligation to obey his commands.
    • This might not be a actually a divine command theory
  • Scotus – so widely believed to be DCT & V
    • Scotus’s views do not comfortably bear these labels
  • Quinn: V – thesis that morality depends on the will of God
  • Murphy some moral status M stands in dependence relationship D to some act of the divine will A
  • If this is true – Scotus is not V – some moral obligations that don’t dpend on God’s will, i.e. the moral obligation to love God.
  • Scotus & Ockham were more liberal about what they thought it was logically possible to do.
  • According to Kent he is V, Williams he is not, Under Quinn & Murphy he is not, According to Evans he is not either.
  1. A Mitigation Interpretation
  • A mitigating interpretation – giving reasons why God legislated what he did, etc.
  • Thomas William’s unmitigated – God can do whatever is logically possible
  • Scotus – there are necessary moral truths over which God has no control:
    • Necessary moral truths – are logically necessary
    • This affects how we should think of the claim that God can do logically possible for God to do (as opposed to logically possible simpliciter)
  • Scotus – God must be loved
    • This is independent of the command to love him
    • From this obligation to love God, we can derive an obligation to obey God’s commands

3.Scotus on the Natural Law

  • If its part of natural law: first practical principles known in virtue of their terms or as conclusions that necessarily follow from them. If some precept p is part of the natural law then p is necessary in a very strong sense: God cannot make P false
  • Loose sense natural law – not entailed by but highly consonant with natural laws
  • He thinks some of the 10 commandments are part of natural law – the first table belong to the natural law in the strict sense, the second table belongs to the natural law in the loose sense
  • Augustine – we love our neighbor for God’s sake. Scotus might be seen as continuing the Augustinian intstrumentalization of the great commandments.
  • Second Table – If that good were not commanded, the ultimate end could still be attained and loved (beatific vision), the attainment of the ultimate end would still be possible.
    • Second table conformity is at best contingent upon achieving the ultimate end
    • Second table is contingent in the fact that God could have put forth other commands or none at all
  • First table commands describe precisely what natural law requires

4.The logical necessity of the practical necessity that God must be loved

  • Deus est diligendus… is a practical truth preceeding any act of the divine will
  • Conclusion: Scotus thinks that God’s doing or willing anything in any way contrary to Deus est diligendus “includes a contradiction” and is therefore impossible.

5.Logical Modalities a la Scotus

  • Real possibility: something is really possible if there is a power to bring it about
  • Logical Impossibility: defined in Scotus’s terms as a certain way in which terms cannot be combined by the mind because of the relationship of terms in a proposition, namely that they are opposed to one another
  • Logical Necessity IFF its contrary (or subcontrary) and contradictory are logically impossible.
  • God must be loved is necessary in this sense.

6.God must be loved

  • A logically necessary practical necessity
  • What should be loved the most is the best – so God should be loved the most
  • If we grasp the meanings of these terms we just “see” that God should be loved the most
  • There is a normative connection between love and the good
  • God has not choice but to be the highest God, thus he has no choice to be the object of greatest love

7.Logically Possible for Whom?

  • Its logically possible to hate God, but God can do anything which does not entail a contradiction, God should be able to hate himself. Why not?
    • A command to hate or to fail to love God is prima faciaie logically possible
  • Needs to be qualified: Humans, robots, elepthans can kick a soccer ball but pens and parameciums can’t. So do determine logical possibility we need to consider the PHI-ing in relation to the x.
  • Hating God is logically possible for humans and angels, but for God it is logically impossible.
  • The terms God & failing to love God are opposed to eachother.
  • God’s power means – God can do whatever is logically possible for God to do

8.God must love God

  • His radical voluntarism is more moderate if understood as “God can do whatever is logically possible for God to do.” Vs. “God can do whatever is logically possible.”
  • God by nature has intellect and will & is therefore capable of happiness + God has no potentiality, so he is happy. Only by knowing God can a person be happy. So God loves God.

9.God can’t command you to hate God

  • Also God cannot dispense anyone from their obligation to love God.
  • Where God to issue a command – never love me
    • Either it would generate a moral obligation or it wouldn’t
    • JERK MOVE
      • If so, he would have a moral obligation to love him and NOT love him. This would be an command in which one would be determined to fail
        • This is a jerk move, so God cannot possibily will to obligate some never to live him
      • OR… FRUSTRATION MOVE
        • God would be frustrated in his legislative obligation
        • But God cannot be frustrated: he gets what he wants
      • So He could not possibly issue a command which could not generate a moral obligation
  1. From Love to Obedience
  • Loving God, is “to repeat in our wills… God’s will for our willing. But willing what God wills for our willing is obedience. So it is necessarily true not just that God is to be loved, but that God is to be obeyed.”
  • One of the problem of DCT – is that they can’t show there are obligations to obey the command
    • What we need then is some other obligation to obey divine commands
    • We are required to love God, but not simply because it is commanded, but because it is logically necessary.
    • We have this moral obligation that does not depend on God’s will, because it is logically necessary that we love God.
  • This helps w/certain objections to DCT
    • God could command horrendous things
    • DCT is circular

An Ethics of Love and Future Generations – Frances Howard-Snyder

The second plenary session at this year’s CCT conference was Frances Howard Snyder, on the Ethics of Love. Here are some notes:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

An Ethics of Love (EL): treat the second great commandment as the ultimate ground – not decision procedure – for our moral obligations to our fellow human beings.

Challenge to EL: It may give the wrong answer to questions about how to treat future generations.

First worry: Future people

  • If you love someone, it seems you have to know her or at least have some sort of causal interaction with her. We have no knowledge of, or casual interaction with, future people.
  • Response: We can make sense of loving people, far away, that we don’t really have interaction with. Future people may not be that different.

Second Worry: Uncertain People

  • “Uniquely realizable” people. People who will exist if you make one choice, but will not exist if you make the other.
  • Example: Handicapped Child Case
    • If Wilma has a child now it will be handicapped (Pebbles), if she waits it will be okay (Rocks). It seems as though Wilma has a moral obligation to wait.
  • What does an ethics of love have to say about this case?

Handicapped Child Case (An Argument)

P1  Wilma’s act of conceiving now does not make pebbles worse off than she would have otherwise been.

P2 If A’s act harms B, then A’s act makes B worse off than B would otherwise have been.

P3 Wilma’s act does not harm anyone other than Pebbles

P4 If an act does not harm anyone, it does not wrong anyone.

P5 If an act does not wrong anyone, then the act is not morally wrong

C Wilma’s act of conceiving Pebbles is not morally wrong

You can object to each of these premises.

An Ethics of Love and the Non-Identity Problem

  • EL can embrace these premises and the conclusion. Seems like the problem is solved… maybe

Wrongful Life Case

  • Ex: child conceived will live such an awful life, that it would be better off not existing. Intuition says its right, EL can agree.

Concerns

Everyone is uncertain relative to me 1000 years from now

EL can respond to the problem of future generations, it need not be a special problem for it.

Q&A Time:

  • Can you love people in past generations? i.e. benefit or harm them?
  • Intuition seems to say, we have obligation to wait (i.e. Zika virus case), even though we don’t know to whom we have the obligation to wait.
  • Might love, in 2nd commandment, might actually be a value we ought to have rather than it being directed towards a specific person.

 

 

 

Bavinck’s Virtue Ethics

In “Distinctively Common” an essay by Clay Cooke – a PhD candidate at Fuller Seminary and Free University of Amsterdam – he notes that Herman Bavinck has a unique Reformed take on virtue ethics.  Bavinck believes that

“We can profit from Aristotelian thought, and without doubt Aristotle’s ethics is basically the best philosophical ethics.”                    –(Notes from Gereformeerde Ethiek van Profess. Dr. H. Bavinck)

In the notes to the lecture that Jelle Michiels De Jong took from one of Bavinck’s lectures it seems pretty clear than he lends his fervent support towards the general structure of virtue ethics. However, he also takes a critical view of virtue ethics. I believe that Bavinck’s eager but critical appropriation of this ethical system serves as an example for Christians who wish to take the best of culture while at the same time recognizing the incompatibility of certain beliefs with our faith. In other words – Bavinck’s approach to virtue ethics is both critical yet appreciative – we ought to learn to be both critical and appreciative of other man made cultural systems.

According to Cooke – Bavnick expressly rejects the Aristotelian claim that people can achieve the human telos by means of their own agency. This is quite in line with his reformed theology which asserts that the development of virtue is only acquired by grace. A Reformed version of virtue ethics will need to prioritize grace in the process of moral formation. It will need to make explicit the fact that one does not become virtuous by means of mere habituation or practice of the virtues, rather one become virtuous (or a person of christian character) when God’s grace enables us to perform those actions which create virtuous lives.

Another aspect of Reformed virtue ethics which will remain distinctive from Aristotelian virtue ethics is that Reformed virtue ethics will aim at Christ-like cruciformity as its telos. This isn’t strictly a reformed view, rather it is a Christian view, however how one understands what cruciformity will actively look like will certainly be shaped by one’s understanding of the reformed tradition.

There is no Judeo-Christian Ethic…

In Kingdom Conspiracy Scot Mcknight makes an argument that the church in American has bought into the temptation of Constantinianism. This is especially evident in the form of civil religion that has emerged as Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and Evangelicals  have become more and more involved in furthering a particular political agenda.

Here is what he says about this civil religion which is based upon a “Judeo-Christian” Ethic.

There is no such thing as an ethic that is both “Judeo” and “Christian,” for one simple reason: the “Christian” part of the ethical question adds Jesus as Messiah, the cross as the paradigm, the resurrection as the power, the Holy Spirit as the transforming agent, the necessity of new birth, and the church as the place where God is at work. Hence, a “Judeo-Christian ethic” either strips the Christian elements or turns the “Judeo” part into a Christian ethic.

That is a pretty powerful claim. What do you make of it?