The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Situational ethics

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Is it always wrong to abuse a woman? Is it wrong to respond to her response to abuse with more abuse? For example, would it be wrong for someone to cut off the ears and nose of a young wife who had tried to escape the clutches of a husband who abused her and kept her with his animals?

Not really, at least according to a good number of students taught by Stephen L. Anderson, who displayed to his class,

without comment, the photo of Bibi Aisha. Aisha was the Afghani teenager who was forced into an abusive marriage with a Taliban fighter, who abused her and kept her with his animals. When she attempted to flee, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead in the mountains. After crawling to her grandfather’s house, she was saved by a nearby American hospital. I felt quite sure that my students, seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, would have a clear ethical reaction, from which we could build toward more difficult cases. . . .

I had expected strong aversion; but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused. They seemed not to know what to think. They spoke timorously, afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize any situation originating in a different culture.

They said, “Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.” One student said, “I don’t feel anything at all; I see lots of this kind of stuff .”

Another said (with no consciousness of self-contradiction), “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”

Such a moral vacuum in our education system is hardly surprising, but it is still fearful. In occasional opportunities to teach in local schools (perhaps in religious assemblies), I usually receive instructions that essentially request training in ethics without instruction in morals, the moulding of attitudes and the avoidance of absolutes. In other words, please build a superstructure, but whatever you do, don’t lay a foundation.

As a result, we are left with a shifting spectrum of would-be ethics grounded in something as substanceless as one’s own subjective sense, pounded into compliance by the notion of cultural relativism and moral irrelevance.

Isaiah had sober words for such confusion: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Is 5.20-21).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 31 December 2011 at 22:35

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