THE WAY OF GOD AND THE ETHICS OF OUR AGE
February 9, 1988 Mc Gill University Chapel
The way of God and the ethics of our age seem to be mutually exclusive terms. The way of God and the ethics of our age is both a paradox and a challenge. There is a definite question mark whether or not the ethics of our age can lead us to the way of God.
To be quite candid the word “ethics” has taken on a new coloration and now as a hyphenated word, conjures up a variety of images; that is, bio-ethics; medical-ethics; social-ethics; business-ethics; political-ethics and a whole spectrum of ethic oriented issues. The original verbal intention has been somewhat obviated in an era of individualism and specialization. According to a modern Greek theologian, ethos and morality share a common vision of the wholeness of the Christian person — pointing to humanity’s existential “Ah” or “thusness”.
I dare say that even the expression, the Way of God has been re-appropriated from the early Christian self-designation as The Way, which was mutually rooted in A Person; as well as its Old Testamental objective qualification found in Deuteronomy 30:15;ff and realized in early Christian literature such as the Didache: The Way of Life and a Way of Death – to now mean – doing “my own thing.”
The title for this particular series calls for a bold and prophetic reaction; primarily because there no longer seems to be a common response or a thread that would tie the theme together due to the fragmentation of the Christian family and subsequently its moral and theological witness.
One of the most pressing issues confronting contemporary Christianity facing the computerized anonymity of the 21st Century is the re-affirmation of the notion of the person with all its attendant consequences for the family. The dignity and utter mystery of the human person must be placed on the front burner of our theological reflections.
There are tendencies in the various movements today that either swallow up the individual into some grand collectivity or in reverse, elevate the individual as the ultimate moral or religious standard. We have on one hand, the ecclesiastical cheering-squads; and on the other, one is the only number.
It is quite clear that the Testamental evidence points to the truth of the simultaneous necessity of corporealness and uniqueness. Community and singleness. St. Paul tells us with clarity that Christians belong to the Body of Christ, each one with their own charisma, or gift. The Christian is both called to the acquisition of the Spirit as well as “washing the feet of the brethren.”
To return to the theme, I must honestly question the validity of the so-called ethics of today. It is amazing that society applauds abortion and at the same time develops mechanical fertility. All in the name of individual rights! Or technological advancements that ultimately rapes the environment and threatens the human race. How about science’s new toy, “the manipulation of the genes,” and the fetus “fetish” for scientific or non—medical uses. In another vein, has sexuality taken a new detour down “aids” avenue… A return to a fundamentalism devoid of substance?
The preceding observation leads me to believe that there exists a dichotomy inherent in Western society’s relationship between truth and life. The individual is abstracted from personhood and therefore, humanity. The perception of the individual with all his/her “rights and privileges” is radically distinct from the Christian person. The trunk of the tree is severed from its roots.
Christianity is not a system of ethics, of “do’s and don’ts.” The Ten Commandments as the sole motivating moral principles have been transcended. Love is incarnated in a Person. The evangelical message is the “the key” to unlocking the door to the mystery of the human person and therefore, the Kingdom of God within… Western Christianity desperately needs to recover a more “holistic” approach to the issues of ethics/morality and the vision of God.
There is a real temptation in our society to subsume everything under the notion of the individual needs and wants. How many manuals exist on spirituality and the techniques for individual growth. In some quarters, Christianity has been reduced to a “course” on self- improvement, and projecting a more “successful” self-image by certain methods of positive thinking. A nebulous power or deity might somehow vaguely be an effective aid in tapping our inner potential!
Pursuing the mania for immediate gratification, everything and everyone becomes an object or a means of achieving goal “sanctification.” Furthermore, the tyranny of the media obscures the value of true personhood by deflecting in the mirror of self-glorification, a false transparency. In other words, society has set the agenda while a disoriented Christianity retreats beyond the frontiers to the sidelines in little “huddles” to consider the next play.
Mircea Eliade poignantly observed that there were “two falls” by humanity. The first acknowledged in the Bible by the Adam and Eve story; and the second, the rise of secularism. In both instances, humankind is severed from the communion with God and nature. An ontological alienation. The Christian response to secularism or a disjunctive humanism is the re-affirmation of the unique value of the human person as the image of God in communion with God.
Sin, that modernistic “no, no” is an enslavement of humanity’s freedom. The Eastern Fathers viewed sin as the absence of God, where God is not, rather than legalistic code bashing. True freedom is not a contingency of choices but the ultimate existential ecstasy of desire for the One, in whose presence, “we move, breath and have our being. “Individualism, is transformed in the corporate reality of the Church, since “no one is saved alone.” Authentic spirituality is always inclusive, never exclusive.
The way of God and the ethics of our age evokes a contemplation of a “deep (that) calls to the deep.” (Ps 42:7) The crisis of autonomy is reversed by repentance, a turning around, having missed the mark in our relationship to God, to our neighbor and to nature. Agape, philos and eros burn into the core of humanity’s heart in that personal communion with God in the fellowship of the saints. The divine energies penetrate, knit together and restore in the depths, human persons who are true, living icons of the living God. Therefore, the idea of alternate life-styles can mean the return to the Christian notion of pilgrimage.. as citizens of another kingdom, moving towards deification or the process of in-goddness.
The ethics of our age can become the ethics of every age that lead us to The Way. Someone once wrote: “Virtue exists for truth; but truth does not exist for virtue.” In other words, the Gospel truth of the person of Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, the ultimate definition of true personhood, is the ground of being for all morality/ethics – yesterday, today and tomorrow.