Ethics, Bonhoeffer, and Bifurcation

I’ve always found ethics to be the least interesting part of philosophy. Metaphysics – seems to be pretty foundational so it’s eternally interesting. Epistemology – how you know what you know – you just don’t get more foundational than that, so again, inherently interesting. (If something foundational changes, your entire world changes. Hence, the interesting bit.) But ethics. Ethics? I’m bored to tears. Maybe I’m just not very moral.

But real quick, let me define terms. I use “ethics” and “morality” interchangeably and the meaning is “a standard of behavior”. Now it gets interesting. Before recently, my view of these concepts was very fuzzy since no one around me ever seemed to take the time to define them, and I apparently didn’t either.

So what is my standard of behavior? My behavior has always been determined by what I feel at the moment (digestion/whimsy/a stream of consciousness which I can’t fully divine), fear (social repercussion, physical repercussion, or really repercussion of any sort), pleasure (does this need defined?), and my faith (Christian). And, until recently, I never paid a speck of attention to my own morality. I have simplistically thought of it as something shared by all humans, at a base level. Thanks C.S. Lewis. And I have been satisfied to allow many of my behaviors to be driven by my faith. After all, most faith systems are all-encompassing and all-demanding. The Christian faith certainly is. So, I’ve felt right before God by following the injunctions of the Bible and, to some extent, of Christian tradition. Beyond that my need to please my parents and other important folk of my life has been entirely motivating. My need for people to like me is probably equally motivating. And last, sometimes that second half the of the Nutella jar is simply shrieking my name through the closet door. That’s always a voice I can hear. And heed.

Bonhoeffer is a book I’ve been reading, and he has been challenging my thought. It’s been perfect taking an Ethics class at the same time as reading this. Bonhoeffer was a German scholar/pastor, born into the highest and most powerful level of society, during the rise and dominance of Hitler. He ultimately chose to actively try to kill Hitler, by joining a movement which nearly succeeded. Right before the war ended, he was killed by the Nazis for this choice. Bonhoeffer wrote a work entitled “Ethics” and he is nearly painfully thought out, superbly German and demanding, like Kant, so when he both writes “Ethics” and chooses to try to kill his own head of state, you have to take this seriously.  Bonhoeffer is very good at making controversial statements. In fact, he states at least once, that he does this intentionally. Sometimes I find it too much and ridiculous. But here is one quote I will end on.

“Those who wish even to focus on the problem of a Christian ethic are faced with an outrageous demand-from the outset they must give up, as inappropriate to this topic, the very two questions that led them to deal with the ethical problem: ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I do something good?’ Instead they must ask the wholly other, completely different question: ‘What is the will of God?”

I hope to read “Ethics”, or at least a summary. In the meantime, I have been very piqued/disturbed by Bonhoeffer’s bifurcation between God and good. Not the newest problem in the world, but it’s not one I’m convinced I can accept. Does this not facilitate extreme/dangerous and completely unpredictable religious behavior?

Words I Learned from Sherlock

So I just finished “The Final Problem“, by Arthur Conan Doyle, and there were a number of words I learned or re-learned. Before stating them, let me say, it is so much fun to read these books/short stories after seeing the BBC version of Sherlock. Too. Much. Fun.

  • petrel – one who brings discord or appears at the onset of trouble
  • asperity – harshness of tone or manner.
  • coup-de-maitre – a master stroke
  • equanimity – mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, esp. in a difficult situation.
  • devolve – transfer or delegate (power) to a lower level, esp. from central government to local or regional administration.

And a quote – can’t leave without a quote from this lovely work: “Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless, and there, deep down in that dreadful cauldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation… him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.”