Thursday, May 22, 2014

The How and Why of Love

I've started to take a real interest in Christian ethics recently.  It began last year when a GP I see sometimes in Albany asked me about family planning.  I used to take the Pill with little thought until I was advised against it by another doctor due to the fact that my family history of stroke makes it a risk.  I've heard other Christians say the Pill causes abortions, but I dismissed this argument with little thought, assuming they were the 'no contraception/you need to let God determine the number of children you will have' types (meaning they are advocating having as many children as the Duggars, and as if God doesn't determine your family size anyway, regardless of whether you use contraception).  But it wasn't until I asked the GP whether the Pill prevents conception or implantation, that I was shocked.  She said there is no guarantee that the Pill will prevent conception, but it reduces the lining of the uterus so that the embryo has nowhere to implant, and will inevitably die.

As a Christian who believes that life begins at conception, this threw up huge dilemmas for me.  I was so blase about using contraception before.  I think many Christian women take the Pill not knowing what it truly does.

That was what prompted me to read this book.  Along with the contraception question, I had many other queries such as, Can a divorced Christian remarry? and Should a pregnant woman have an abortion if her life is at risk?  These questions are addressed in this book, but first Michael Hill seeks to teach a framework of ethics, rather than jump ahead to specific questions.  I found myself impatiently reading the first section on how ethics are developed when I really wanted my questions answered.  But it is vitally important to understand the ideas and concepts used in ethics before we can start applying them to specific circumstances.

One thing Hill tries to get the reader to understand is the difference between morals and ethics.  Often these two terms are used interchangeably, but they mean different things. 

Ethics is the study of morality (page 16).

Ethics also have three distinct aspects:

Descriptive ethics - identifying the moral rules and standards that people adopt.
Normative ethics - locating moral standards that we can operate on and live by, trying to analyse moral standards to see if they are right and true.  Many people obey the moral commands in the Bible, but they do not try to see the reason behind the command.  Ethics is more than obeying rules.
Meta-ethics - the questions raised by the very analysis of morality itself i.e. what is moral value?

With this in mind, the second part of the book was enormously helpful in getting me to think about how I react as a Christian to the issues in the world today.  Rarely are issues always black and white and sometimes a 'retrieval ethic' is necessary.  This means we live in the age between Jesus' ascension and return and we cannot apply our ethics perfectly in situations where there are people who don't submit to Jesus' lordship.  Therefore, in such cases we ought to show love and do good.  An example of this would be in supporting our government's recognition of defacto couples with children as having the right to receive the same financial benefits as married couples.  This is NOT because Christians see marriage and defacto as the same - marriage is marriage and defacto is defacto.  It is because our retrieval ethic of doing good and showing love means that we don't want the children of defacto couples to suffer because they are being denied financial assistance.

The first part of the book can be quite heavy going, but it is essential to read it first to understand how ethics are formed.  Many Christians grow up believing that abortion, murder, divorce etc is wrong, but have no idea WHY they believe this to be the case.  This book takes us right back to Genesis and creation, investigating the framework of God's world and how He designed it to work.  Only then can we examine issues such as sex and marriage, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, euthanasia and abortion. 

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