One of the major issues that needs to be dealt with in India is corruption. Studies reveal that it affects the country’s economy substantially. Last year India ranked 94th of 174 countries according to Transparency International’s corruption Perceptions Index. A vast majority of the Indian population have had firsthand experience in paying bribes. It is nearly impossible to get any work done that involves government bureaucracy without bribery in some form or the other. This is a challenge I have to constantly confront as the leader of a Christian organization. After a huge investment of resources, time and effort a much needed nursing college of ours still remains unaccredited for lack of ‘palm greasing’. It is impossible to even begin to tell how frustrating this is. This is one simple illustration of what a Christian has to face in our context and culture; but there is much more.
To think that living as a committed and devoted Christian in today’s changing postmodern world is simple and undemanding would certainly be naive. The Christian is tugged and pushed from many directions to compromise on ethical issues. There is no easy passage to knowing what must be done in such circumstances; frankly speaking even if Christians know what ethics is, it is a challenge for many to know how to live ethically. Such living demands an understanding of the standards of the Christian faith in these matters and the Christian principles that will help navigate these complex issues. The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context by Patrick Nullens and Ronald Michener is a brief but brilliant and helpful reflection on this subject. The authors propose an approach that integrates a variety of classical models such as consequential ethics, principle ethics, virtue ethics and value ethics and define it as ‘the matrix of Christian ethics’. The book takes into consideration both moral theology and philosophy with an unusual sensitivity of the complexities of this postmodern global era.
Chapter eight titled “The Ethical Human Being” deals with the dignity of humanity as a reflection of God’s image (Imago Dei). Every human being is created in the image of the Triune God. Within this framework of thinking, I find the basis and need for ethical living for a Christian. Anything said or done that destroys this dignity of humanity, or defaces the Imago Dei is unethical. I lean heavily toward the ‘Theological Anthropology’ propounded by Thielicke that defines Christian Faith as being basically relational (NULLENS 2010, 179). Ethical living therefore becomes the bedrock and underpinning in maintaining the equilibrium of the three-fold relationship, with the self, the neighbor and the surrounding world and as Berkhof further describes this Imago Dei as consisting of a triple encounter with God, neighbor, and nature. “The human is at once a child of God, a neighbor to other human beings, and a lord (caretaker) over nature.” (NULLENS 2010, 180)
A balanced interaction of “The Three constituent relationships” as Nullens and Michener call it is very helpful in determining the course a Christian needs to take:
Relationship to God: The Human Being as a Religious Creature
Relationship with the Neighbor: The Human Being as a Social Creature
Relationship with Nature: The Human Being as a Creative Creature (NULLENS 2010, 180-185)
This then is how‘Christian ethics’ differs from others. David Ford describes more aptly when he says: “Christian theological ethics, then, contributes to forming the minds hearts, and wills of individuals and communities who continually find themselves in situations requiring responsible judgement, decision and action. (FORD 1999, 63)” It is grounded first and foremost on one’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ and directed by the absolutes found in the Bible that will enlighten the conscience and enhance the Christian’s moral conduct. Complex ethical topics in this postmodern era can then be appropriately addressed through the second and third relational constituents. Relationship to culture then becomes critical. Church historian Eckman points out three ways Christians may react to culture as they hold on to ethical absolutes: separation, accommodation, or transformation. The best strategy is achieved through a synthesis of all three sifted through Biblical principles.
FORD, David. THEOLOGY A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
NULLENS, Patrick, MICHENER, Ronald. The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context. Downer’s Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2010.