From The Peaceable Kingdom
The modern moral and religious situation I have reviewed makes the task of Christian ethics precarious at best. The temptations and pitfalls are innumerable. At a time when we are no longer sure our religious beliefs are true, perhaps the most destructive of these temptations is to salvage some significance for religion by claiming it can hold back the moral anarchy that threatens us. Calling on religion to supply those absolute values we think necessary to support the leaking breakwater of our civilization, we train “religious ethicists” to teach courses in business ethics, medical ethics, and value clarification.
But this strategy avoids the most essential question. We should not want to know if religious convictions are functional; we should want to know if they are true. Furthermore such an approach seems to imply that Christian ethics can create a morality when one is missing. Yet this is futile insofar as ethics depends upon vital communities sufficient to produce well-lived lives. If such lives do not exist, then no amount of reflection can do anything to make our ethics fecund.
We cannot assume that ethical reflection will free us from the ambiguity of living among the fragments. In fact, honest and careful ethical reflection will most likely expose more subtle difficulties for the moral actor in a fragmented world. The task of Christian ethics is not to relieve us of the ambiguity but to help us understand rightly what it means to live in the world we do – that is, to live truthfully in a world without certainty.
Finally, the absolutist strategy misconstrues the meaning and the task of Christian ethics. The task of Christian ethics is to help us see how our convictions are in themselves a morality. We do not first believe certain things about God, Jesus, and the church, and subsequently derive ethical implications from these beliefs. Rather our convictions embody our morality; our beliefs are our actions. We Christians ought not to search for the “behavioral implications” of our beliefs. Our moral life is not comprised of beliefs plus decisions; our moral life is the process in which our convictions form our character to be truth.