Archives For Ethics

Cracked soil 2Two weeks ago I came across two speeches. The first was from Catholic Theologian Jean Vanier, and the second was from Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.

I’ve had an interest in the praxis, theology and political philosophy of the former since my encounter with his work during my undergraduate study. His co-authored work, ‘Living Gently in a Violent World, (2008)‘ written with Stanley Hauerwas still stands out in my mind.

Each speech was given as part of an acceptance ceremony whereby Vanier (2015) and Sacks (2016) were awarded the Templeton Prize. Both speeches are not entirely worlds apart, however in the end I was drawn to the speech given by Sacks, more than I was Vanier.

For context, the Templeton Prize is an award that ‘honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works […]The Prize seeks and encourages breadth of vision, and new insights that human beings take their spiritual bearings from a range of experiences.’ [i]

The Sacks speech hits on the dangers and problems caused by the outsourcing of [personal] responsibility (for example abuses, neglect, mechanisms of denial, anxiety avoidance, crisis, oppression, self-justification and how at times  social justice can mask even greater evils).

Some of the key highlights:

1. ‘A free society is a moral achievement. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart  and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.’
2. ‘The 1960’s is marked by the outsourcing of morality; an abandonment of the Moral Sciences. Morality had been outsourced to the market. The market gives choices, and morality itself is just a set of choices in which right or wrong have no meaning beyond the satisfaction or frustration of desire […] Ethics was reduced to economics. As for the consequences of our choices, these were outsourced to the state […] Welfare was outsourced to the state. As for conscience, that once played so large a part in a the moral life, that could be outsourced to regulatory bodies. So having reduced moral choices to economics, we transformed the consequences of choices to politics.’
3. ‘You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away. When you do, you raise expectations that cannot be met. […] as a result people start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism. The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was. The far left seeks a Utopian future that will never be. Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror. Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace. These are all fantasies, and pursuing them will endanger the very foundations of freedom […] We’ve already seen on university campuses in Britain and America [& Australia] the abandonment of academic freedom in the name of the right not to be offended by being confronted by views with which I disagree.’
4.  ‘What emerged in Judaism and post-reformation Christianity was the rarest of character-types: the inner-directed personality. Most societies, for most of history, have been either tradition-directed or other-directed.  Inner directed types are different. They become pioneers, the innovators and the survivors. They try to have secure marriages, hand on their values to their children, belong to strong communities, and take daring but carefully calculated risks. When they fail, they have rapid recovery times, have discipline and are more interested in sustainability than quick profits.’
5. ‘Civilisations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being in the first place. It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West.’

His conclusion:

‘There is an alternative: become inner-directed again […] which means learning that there are some things we cannot or should not outsource, some responsibilities we cannot or should not delegate away.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future.
If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.’ [ii]

All Sacks’ points and his sharp conclusion speak of a society telling itself that it’s on the verge of an upgrade. When in fact it’s face to face with the abyss, far closer to an irreversible downgrade. Glimmers of hope, such as Brexit, where free citizens vote not to comfortably slide into the role of indentured subject, may not be enough to encourage unity against such.

On another front, for me, Sacks’ use of the phrase ”inner-directed” is too ambiguous. Other than referring to it as being human conscience, it’s left open to interpretation. If the definition rests solely on human conscience then it raises significant problems for theologians, who hold human conscience as not being the centre or source of morality, ethics – the distinction between good and evil; right and wrong.

Humanity is not the source of this. It can only be a Word spoken to humanity from outside humanity. It cannot speak right and wrong to itself abstracted from the source of this differentiation. As witnessed throughout the 20th century in the West, when right and wrong are detached from Judeo-Christian ethics, human suffering isn’t answered, it’s increased.

It’s exactly what Bonhoeffer digs into when he states:

Humankind, which has fallen away from God in a precipitous plunge, now still flees from God. For humankind the fall is not enough; its flight cannot be fast enough. This flight, Adam’s hiding away from God, we call conscience. Before the fall there was no conscience.
Only since humankind has become divided from the Creator are human beings divided within themselves. Indeed it is the function of conscience to make human beings flee from God and so admit against their own will that God is in the right; yet, conscience also lets human beings, in fleeing from God, feel secure in their hiding place […]
Conscience is not the voice of God within sinful human beings; instead it is precisely their defence against this voice. Yet precisely as a defence against this voice, conscience still points to it, in spite of all that human beings know and want.’ [iii]

‘Inner-directed” therefore can only mean the inner-direction of the Holy Spirit. Any other source of ”inner-direction” is bound to lead us into inner-misdirection. Inner-direction is directed by a transcendent direction, at once hidden, yet revealed.

Outside this theological framework Jonathan Sacks’ call to become inner-directed is mis-directed:

‘Conscience means feeling shame before God; at the same time one conceals one’s own wickedness in shame, humankind in shame justifies itself […] The grace of the Creator is not recognised. God calls Adam and does not let him flee. Instead Adam sees this grace only as hate, as wrath, a wrath that inflames his own hate, his rebellion, his desire to get away from God. Adam keeps on falling. The fall drops with increasing speed for an immeasurable distance.’ [iv]

With the understanding that ”inner-direction” is within the framework of humanity finding itself being Holy Spirit-directed, I’m on board with Sacks’ conclusions.

‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:16-26)


[i] Templeton Prize

[ii] Sacks, J. Rabbi, 2016 Templeton Speech PDF Sourced 19th June, 2016 from

[iii] Bonhoeffer, D. 2004, DBW3 Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3  (128). Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (p.128)

[iv] ibid, 2004:130

On That Day

August 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

Fall Out Filtered RL2015

When, on that solemn day,
the remnants of Western civilisation gather
to count the cost,
they will remember
that it was the Left who fired the first shot.





back to HomeschoolSunday involved preparing curriculum for a new Homeschool term. This was made more strenuous by a letter we received the other day. In it we were reminded about stricter guidelines now being set up for home education in our state.

For those foreign to attitudes in Australia towards homeschooling, the best way to illustrate them is by stating that they range between indifference, curiosity, confusion and sometimes hostility.

The general notion is that since the Commonwealth (Federal Government) and States provide “free” schooling, why homeschool?

It is not always the case, but hidden within this is the cultural hang-up that wrongly views “kids as burdens to be offloaded, and their successes paraded only when the result reflects “exceptional parental conduct.”

I feel sorry for the school teachers who are overloaded, overworked, underpaid and largely have their role misunderstood. Granted, the system works up to a point. However it ceases to function effectively when the State (or any private institution) begins to walk away from endorsing the fact that teachers are professional educators, not substitute parents. Nor, to use a more blunt analogy, are they glorified baby-sitters.

Parental responsibility is still the most significant part in the effective education of children. This includes making time to not only be concerned about the place of education, but participate in the method of education and contribute to the progress of their child’s education.

It is part of a more broader political party view, but some State Government representatives in Australia, see Home Schooling as primitive, biased and regressive.

For example:

”Without the watchful eye of teachers, some children could end up trapped in abusive settings or left without appropriate learning opportunities,” Greens MP, Dr John Kaye said. (source)

Although helpful to some degree, this new bureaucratic push has some unhealthy weight to it. As a result it is being felt. So for now we are back to homeschooling, but for how long, I couldn’t say.

The good side to this fresh approach by our governing agencies is that it means some empowerment for homeschoolers. For instance, a more targeted practice in the art of “review, review, review” and the opportunity to promote the benefits of homeschooling to those generally unaware of the them.

This can only translate as support. Otherwise we’d be consumed by the fact that it appears as though it’s a politely veiled, politically driven, disincentive to continue.

(Original image credit: digitalart)

The word judgement is associated with the word criteria. Etymologically speaking they can be viewed as interconnected in the adjectival sense, such as: ‘someone who has been judged and either meets, or does not meet the criteria’.

My working thesis here involves a developing formula,  influenced by Karl Barth’s theological analysis in ‘CD.1.1’:

Cause. Consequence. Free Remedy. Consequence. Free Reply. Consequence.

As I read the words in 1 John 3-5 today, I recalled this formula and it raised this question:

If we are both called and carried into the light by Jesus, how do we live well in the shadows of a broken existence?

For sometime now John’s words here, to me, have wrongly been used to empower half-truths fuelled by a theology of cheap grace such as:

                  • “Forgive and forget”
                  • “Just get over it”
                  • “You’re the one with the problem, not me”
                  • “Let go and let God’’
                  • “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’’
                  • “Everyone has’’
                  • “all disagreement is hate”

Steve Wilkens, in his 2011 book ‘Beyond bumper sticker ethics’ asserts: ‘ideas are built on certain assumptions, and if the assumptions are untrue or only partly true, what we build upon them is shaky’ (2011:12).The misuse of these could be considered ‘dysfunctional coping strategies’ (Berry & Baker, ‘Who’s to Blame?’).At worst these phrases are deflections employed to justify an ignorance that permits the ‘abdication of responsibility’ (Leslie Houston, 2013 Tabor Adelaide), while showing off falsely a moral and theological superiority to a perceived enemy.

Cover of "Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: A...

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The reading of 1 John results in a command for ALL to enter into remembrance of the crisis of the human situation. Remedied by judgement [crisis] that came, comes and is revealed [apocalypse] in the full humanity, and full deity of Jesus the Christ.

As Christians, we must not read the words as an apologetic for deflection and evasion of reason. For example: justification for blind compassion. Ask any well balanced parent, they will quickly tell you that saying “no” can be as loving as saying ”yes”.

Acting as if mercy was the epitome of Christ’s existence, and then misapplying this theology to justify irrational political reactions (read neglect, abuse & manipulation) to the human situation and environment, denies the existence of Christ as the just judge. It binds the ‘God who exists in freedom’ (Barth) to human ideology. In turn this resembles more a form of practical atheism, than any form of Christian Socialism.

Such thought wrongly assumes that the purpose of Christ’s incarnation was mercy without justice. On all accounts his betrayal and crucifixion might certainly look this way. However, to assume that mercy alone will save the day is to be ignorant of the responsibility he took up on that day. It does not answer, let alone acknowledge the problem of judgement [crisis].Consequently, because of its over emphasis on mercy this theological perspective conveniently ignores the judgement of God fulfilled in the resurrection of the Christ, and the subsequent just judgement yet-to-be fulfilled on all humanity.

Rights and responsibility bring into focus a socio-political idea of individual human accountability. This concept could be bridged to the comments surrounding John’s considerations about the coming day of judgement (1.Jn.4:17). The socio-political is an aspect  that supports the content of Revelation, which talks of Christ as a King like no other. One in whom hope exists equally, as mercy and justice – word and deed.

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Rev.5:5)

As citizens of the world, our place is found in speaking the truth in love. This is a command that requires a response, no matter how much it may produce conflict with others or result in the false labelling of any responsible word and deed, as “hate-speech; inhumane or otherwise’’.

God calls us to differentiate between the ‘sacred and the silly’[ii]. Words like: ‘let us love in deed and in truth’ (1. Jn.3:18) remind us of his invitation to prayer and reason. Justice and mercy play an important part in the potential outcomes

The Psalmist writes ‘blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times’ (Ps.106:3-4). There is truth in this. Because of Christ, there now is the ‘relation of forgiveness and demand….This is James’ “LAW OF LIBERTY”, which he contrasts with Jewish law, as an order under which humanity stands not just as hearers but also as doers’ (Barth, 1936:461 & 457). As John says ‘this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith’ (1.Jn.5:4).

A reasoned response can be, and often is the most loving response we can give. For example: “rights come with responsibility”. (Paul, Jean Elshtain, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Inside this movement exists a quest for balance, truth, and just outcomes. Responsible action aligned with Micah 6:8.

‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [mercy] and to walk humbly with God’ (ESV)

Therefore, because God is love he initiates both mercy and justice. Subsequently when we appeal to a higher sense of justice and mercy we are seeking to lean our best efforts towards achieving just outcomes on the work already completed in Christ .

Paul wrote:

‘Be ready for every good work…for we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by other and hating one another. But…God our Saviour appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life’ (Titus 3:1-7)

I suggest that we view mercy and justice as symbiotic, not oxymoronic. This is a view grounded in the atonement as described in the New Testament – the Christ event, when all humanity is both called and carried into the light by Jesus, through Word, cross, resurrection and Pentecost.

The second act is, I believe, found in an imperative issued by Elshtain:

‘we must embrace a politics of limits. There are things we must not do for in doing so we will not only further cheapen already fragile human ties in the present but undermine the very humanitarian ends we claim to seek’ (Public man, Private Woman 1981:352)

Barth might term this: ‘Freedom in Limitation’ (CD.III:4), a positive paradox pre-empted and exemplified by his comments in CD:1.1:

‘it is true enough that humans must open the door (Rev.3:20)…But that fact takes place in the work of the Christ who stands outside. Hence it is also unconditionally true that the risen Christ passes through closed doors (Jn.20:19)’ – Barth 1936:247.

Reflective Prayer:

God as the unbroken you love the broken, and by doing so, make that which is broken beautiful.
Help us not to forget, that though the wrong is often strong,”You will reign”[iii].


[i] [Greek reads: agape – ἀγάπη], confession [ὁμολογήσῃ; homologese] and judgement [κρίσεως; criteria; crisis].
[ii] Rosanne Cash, Tribute to Johnny Cash. Sourced 11th Nov. 2013 from:
[iii] Barth & the Moravian Reading 15th November 2013


Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics Vol.1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson
Berry, C.R & Baker, M.W 1996 who’s to Blame? Escape the victim trap and Gain personal power in your relationships  Pinion Press Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A
Houston, L 2013 Christian Leadership lectures, Tabor Adelaide
Elshtain, J.B 1981 Public Man, Private Woman Princeton University Press
Wilkens, S.2011 Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics Intervarsity Press Downers Grove, IL